There are times when it feels like the squirrels in our yard are just as much a part of our family as our pets. Seldom do we look out our window or walk around our property, without a couple of squirrels scampering nearby. They race across our deck and railings. They dig relentlessly in our flower pots when we are not looking. Sometimes they even help themselves to the tasty heads of our favorite new blooms. We are constantly filling in holes where they are burying new acorns or digging up last season’s crop. The other day a squirrel was digging and digging in one of our young spring flower beds. By the time he was done, until only a tail could be seen above ground. Slowly, the squirrel started backing out of the hole while apparently filling it in as he retracted. Within a few seconds, the squirrel was fully visible again. Then I witnessed to my disbelief and amazement, the squirrel replacing all the mulch he had removed back over the hole. His busy little paws quickly spread the mulch around the area. After he finished, I peeked at his handiwork. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would not have known that a hole had even been in this spot in our garden. Squirrels are certainly amazing little creatures.
Around the world there are approximately 285 species of squirrels. They can be broken down to three main lineages. Two of the groups are relatively small. These two groups primarily consist of the oriental giant squirrel and the neotropical pygmy squirrel. The third and by far the largest group, can be split into three subgroups. The threes subgroups are the flying squirrels, tree squirrels, and mainly ground living squirrels. Squirrels in these categories vary greatly in size, with the smaller African pygmy squirrel weighing around a third of an ounce and the Alpine marmot weighing up to 18 pounds. Yes, 18 pounds! The Alpine marmot is also around three and a half feet long, while the pygmy squirrel is as short as 3 inches.
An interesting fact about squirrels is that early spring is the hardest time of the year for them to find food. Nuts buried during the fall can be dug up and eaten prior to the nut starting to sprout. Once the nut sprouts, the it is no longer available for the squirrel to eat. Once buried nuts are off the menu, squirrels then need to rely heavily on the buds of trees for food. Therefore, there are so many chewed off twigs through the spring season. Squirrels will quickly switch to seeds, fruits, fungi, nuts, pine cones and other green vegetation when available. Some squirrels, when desperate for food, will switch to meat and eat insects, eggs, small birds, and even rodents. It is during these times, that a squirrel will rob a nest of freshly laid eggs or dine on the young. They are some species of squirrels that will regularly dine on snakes, shrews, lizards, and mice when they can find them.
In North America, there are most likely squirrels in your neighborhood. They live across the country and continue to populate in large numbers. A squirrel’s normal life span is between 5 and 10 years in the wild. They can have multiple litters in a year and have a new litter every three or four months. Their gestation period is generally between 30 and 60 days, depending on the size of the species. The kittens as they are called, then stay with their mother for seven to eight weeks. Initially after birth, they are blind and stay in the nest. Once on their own, the new litter normally stays within a two-mile radius of their birthing nest. Nature does influence the juvenile squirrels with most of them not living beyond their first year of life. Those that do, can typically be seen chasing each other from tree to tree, racing across the back yard, or dodging cars on our roadways.