As the cold settled in this weekend, not much was stirring around our garden. The resident deer herd was nowhere to be seen. A few birds could be heard, but our feeders have been very quiet this fall.
There was, however, a couple of eastern gray squirrels taking advantage of my husband’s nearly daily offering of sunflower seeds. The seeds were originally intended for the birds but squirrels, being the bullies they can be, took over the feeder by the back door. Yes, I know feeding squirrels or any other wildlife has its short comings, but we still put our offerings out.
The most common squirrel in the urban areas is the eastern gray squirrel. They are native to the eastern U.S. and probably found their way here in the early 1900s when early residents thought they’d be cute here, too.
Our native squirrels, including the western gray squirrel, the red squirrel, the Douglas squirrel and the northern flying squirrel, usually hang out in forested areas away from people.
The western gray squirrel is the largest squirrel in the region, measuring up to 24 inches. It is found in oak and conifer forests on the west side of the state.
The red squirrel is about 12 inches long and is found in the forests and open areas of northeast Washington. The Douglas squirrel is about the same size as the red squirrel and is found in Western Washington forests. The northern flying squirrel is the smallest of the native squirrels, measuring about 12 inches in length, and is found throughout the state. This squirrel is nocturnal, so we rarely see it glide through the trees during the day.
Squirrels build nests in available hollow trees, abandoned woodpecker cavities, stumps and similar hollows. When these are unavailable, they will build spherical or cup-shaped nests in trees, attics and bird nest boxes. The nests are built out of any soft natural material including leaves, twigs, shredded bark, mosses and house insulation.
In cold areas in the forest, the red squirrel will build winter nests underground not far from its winter food stores. Urban squirrels will take advantage of any structure they can find a way into. More than one person has found the beginnings of a nest tucked under their car hood.
Squirrels are opportunists when it comes to food. They eat seeds, nuts, acorns, tree buds, berries, leaves, twigs and the occasional fungi, insect, bird egg and nestling. They store food in tree cavities, old animal burrows and man-made cavities such as flowerpots, exhaust pipes and abandoned cars and machinery.
Generally, squirrels mate from early winter into the spring and raise a litter of two to four young with a possible second litter in late summer for all but the western gray and flying squirrel. The young squirrels begin venturing down to the ground at 60 days and are on their own at three months. If a squirrel survives the first year, it may live three to five years on average.
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