Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Love-Hate Relationship

I am rather ambivalent regarding the gray squirrels in our little corner of the world. They are sometimes cute and sometimes pesky; sometimes extremely interesting and at other times extremely vexing. Some years we are overrun with them. This is one of those years. It's just a guess but I'm thinking this is a male although coloring for both sexes is pretty much the same.

When we moved to this house surrounded by woods, I began to notice white branches on trees in the winter time. What I mean is the bark was being stripped off certain branches. After a few years of wondering what caused it, I finally witnessed a squirrel peel a long strip of bark off a branch, roll it up in it's mouth so that it wouldn't trip on it or get tangled up in it as it moved through the trees, and take it back to it's nest.

We all know bark isn't soft, but the inner layer, the cambium layer beneath the bark is soft. Somehow the squirrels remove the bark, leaving only this cambium material and use this as the bedding for their new family. This mass of bedding fell out of a nest that had been abandoned after the nesting season was over.

Squirrels have their young early. Like January/February early. So, the babies are ready to leave the nest right around the time that an abundance of food becomes available. In this photo, the mother of the babies seen in some of the other images, is eating the inflorescence (flowers) on the sweetgum tree where her nest was built just after the leaves emerged (and also her babies).

Her three babies emerged from the nest at about the same time.

They stayed near the nest, not leaving the home tree for about a week. They were not out all the time, but were still doing a lot of sleeping. When they were out, they would spend a lot of time playing together.

One watches while the other samples buds on the same sweetgum. Their nest is in the foreground. As time passed, they became braver and braver, leaving the home tree and exploring the area a bit more.

They were branching out on adventures at just about the time the blossoms on the wild cherry were beginning to emerge and true to form for a baby, they had to try those too.

We associate squirrels with nuts, but nuts are only available during one season (and over the winter when they eat the reserves they have stored. The rest of the time, they eat other vegetation, seeds, mushrooms, fruit, bird eggs and the occasional bird chick...

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