Squirrel Love

Today is National Squirrel Appreciation Day! I am a  squirrel fan year-round, but today I am going to go the extra mile to make my fuzzy friends feel more at home. I am one of those people that lets them eat out of the feeder, and rescues babies that fall out of the trees. I have even rescued one off the road…that’s a sad story though, not one for today.

Can't we all just get along? Look at that cute face.

To celebrate these little buddies of ours fully,  lets take a peek at some fun squirrel facts!

A baby squirrel is called a kitten. The smallest squirrel usually gets pushed out of the nest by other kittens to reduce competition. A baby squirrel weights about one ounce at birth. It is also about an inch long, hairless, toothless and blind for the first six weeks.

Both are kittens.

Squirrels are part of the largest group of living mammals, with over 40% of total mammal species comprising the Rodentia order. There are over 365 spp of squirrels in the world, 10 in North America. In Michigan we have Eastern gray, Red, Fox, Northern flying,  albino and black-phase eastern gray squirrels. many of these species also inter-breed. There are parts of the country that have large populations of albino squirrels and festivals celebrating them.

Several towns such as Olney Illinois, Exeter Ontario, Marionville Missouri and Brevard North Carolina claim to be the "Home of the White Squirrel".

Squirrels homes are usually in treetops, or inside a tree. Treetop nests are called dreys, and consist of two rooms and a nursery. Females give birth twice a year, in the spring and late summer and start mating when they are a year old. She has two to five kittens each time and the  gestation period is six weeks.

It is very easy to spot squirrel dreys this time of year. Squirrels do constant maintenance throughout the winter to maintain them. You can often see them gathering oak leaves and branches to further insulation and support.

After babies are born they nurse on milk.  When they start eating solid food, they will eat nuts, seed, wheat, fruit, oak buds,  and corn. They will also forage for scraps and food left out by humans (bread products, peanuts etc.). Other foods include insects and occasionally bird eggs. Their diet varies dramatically on the season and on food availability.

Provide your squirrels with treats to keep them away from your bird feeders. Providing a squirrel station with peanuts, corn, striped sunflowers and block treats will be sure to keep them happy.

Squirrels do hide and store acorns, but it has been found that most of them end up not getting eaten. Last year I read a great blog post from Backyard Gardening Blog, where Chris the author planted Butternut Squash. Soon after the seeds where planted several were missing. Stolen. So he tried again. Stolen again. Long story short, the squirrels were taking the seeds from poor soil and planting them in the best improved soil in the yard. Their result was 41 lbs of squash, his was just over a pound and a half.

A crop of squash. Squash on the left was planted by a squirrel, while the squash on the right was planted by a gardener.

Squirrels can live up to 10-12 years. Their natural predators are red-tailed  hawks, wild and domestic cats, eagles, fox, raccoons, and opossums. Other threats include man and especially our traffic. Squirrels need both calcium and salt in their diet. Often when you see squirrels by the road in the winter the are foraging for salt. In the fall you see young squirrels searching for new territory and playing with other young squirrels. This is the deadliest time of year for them.

I know we are just getting started on these acrobatic creatures, but my time here has run out. Today make sure you put out an extra treat-maybe some bread with peanut butter or cashews? The squirrels will thank you!

Happy Squirreling!