EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SQUIRRELS AND WERE AFRAID TO ASK!
Squirrels. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are a very common part of our wildlife. To some they are purely “annoying” pests hogging and stealing from bird feeders, and to others, fun creatures to look at while strolling through the forest.
Whichever camp you're in, it’s worth learning a thing or two about their behavior and quirky personalities.
There are over 200 species of squirrels around the world - except for Australia (having to compete with possums, they never had a chance.)
Most squirrels are diurnal, hunting for food during the day and resting at night. In winter they dial down their activity a lot but still are quite active as they do not hibernate.
These squirrel species are basically divided into three: trees, ground and “flying” squirrels.
Tree squirrels generally have the classic bushy tail, sharp claws and large ears, while ground squirrels have smaller legs and less of the bushy tail. The “flying squirrels” have a furry wing-like membrane that connects the wrist to the ankle which is how they seem to glide in the air from branch to branch, like trapeze flyers. They can fly over 150 feet!
Generally speaking, nuts and seeds are their main dietary items, but the bushy tailed creatures will also eat berries, fungus and insects. Squirrels hoard small caches of food (mainly seeds) in a few locations. These little “buried treasures” are sometimes never recovered and then become seedlings.
Ground squirrels eat plants, nuts, leaves, roots, seeds, as well as insects and caterpillars. Out of the three, these guys are the most vulnerable to predators as they - well - dwell on the ground which makes them easy to spot. This is also the reason they work in groups: they have a special whistle which is sounded when predators are around, warning each other of danger. Another protection mechanism is digging burrows or nests in locations unseen to the naked/predatory eye.
Tree squirrels are seen everywhere: from forests to city parks. As their name implies, these squirrels are professional climbers, running up the tree to munch on bark, eggs and sometimes even baby birds. Tree sap is an especially great source of nutrition. But tree squirrels also look for sustenance on the ground such as nuts, acorns, berries, and flowers.
Flying squirrels are an interesting species. Though they don’t really “fly”, they can maneuver in the air, almost seeming like birds.
Flying squirrels live in tree cavities and also build nests - known as dreys - from twigs and leaves. They line the inside of the drey with grass, then balance them on tree branches or buildings. These are used not only for nesting but also for sleeping in.
Flying squirrels eat nuts, fruit and insects as well as baby birds.
Breeding and territorial behavior
The reason why the squirrel population is so vast is because they can have up to 8 babies, multiple times per year.
Babies are born naked and blind and therefore totally dependent on their mothers for up to 3 months. These babies won’t leave their nests until they are fully furred and ready to face the world on their own.
Squirrels are highly territorial and vocal, especially during the mating season. They mark their territory (up to 10 acres!) with urine and wild displays of tail-waving. If that is not “dog-like enough” they can “bark” at any suspicious intruder - including us humans. Most squirrels live in colonies or groups, but some, like the grey squirrel, are solitary creatures.
The bark of a grey squirrel:
For all squirrels, one of the main life threats, other than predators - is habitat loss. The western grey squirrel was considered a threatened species due to disease and road-kill, though its population has recovered. But many habitats have undergone urbanization and wildfires, as well as life-threatening intrusions from commercial plants.
The sound of a red squirrel:
Did you know:
The smallest squirrel in the world is literally a pygmy. The African Pygmy is about 5 inches long.
The biggest squirrel in the world is the Indian Giant which is 3 feet long.
Squirrels are diurnal because their eyesight is stronger during the day (owls of course are the opposite and therefore nocturnal.) Flying squirrels as an exception are nocturnal. You might not even know you have them nearby! These creatures are active at night except when winter shows its cold teeth. By then they prefer to stay in the warmth of their dreys.