Squirrel Facts

  • The word squirrel comes from the Greek “skiouoros” meaning “shadow tail”.
  • Our common urban squirrels are Eastern Grey Squirrels.
  • Black-coloured squirrels are “morphs” or colour variants of the Eastern Grey Squirrel.
  • Grey squirrels on average are about 25 cm long with an 8-9 cm long tail and weigh about 1-1.5 pounds
  • The squirrel is the Native American symbol for preparation, trust and thriftiness.
  • Grey squirrels live for 2-5 years.
  • Their preferred habitat is urban or suburban areas with trees. They are also found in  woodlands.
  • In summer, Grey squirrels build dreys (leaf nests) high in trees. They are about the size of a football and are lined with grass, bark, moss, pine needles and feathers for comfort and insulation. There is a single, concealed entrance hole.
  • A squirrel can have several leaf nests and will move when there are too many insects present.
  • In winter and for raising young, a tree cavity or old woodpecker hole is preferred.
  • Squirrels do not hibernate in winter but may stay in their nests for several days during bitter cold periods.
  • Male and females tend to live apart in summer but together in winter.
  • On average, squirrels eat one pound or more of food each week.
  • They are “omnivores” meaning that they eat inner tree bark, flowers, mushrooms, leaf buds, corn, fruit, insects, carrion, mice and other small mammals, bird eggs and baby birds in addition to birdseed and nuts.
  • Squirrels feed for much of the day but are not active at night.
  • Several males compete for one female in a ritual chase at breakneck speeds up and down and through the trees, leaping from branch to branch. The female then selects the one she perceives as the strongest male, rarely mating with the same male again
  • Squirrels mate in the winter and there is approximately a 40 day gestation period.
  • 2 – 6 young are born and this sometimes happens twice in the same year.
  • The young are weaned after about 8-9 weeks and pushed out of the nest.
  • The male does not participate in rearing the young.
  • Unlike juvenile raccoons, we seldom see juvenile squirrels as they are kept hidden. About 80% are killed by hawks, coyotes and foxes before maturity.
  • Squirrels can leap 10 times their body length.
  • Their feet are padded which always provides a soft landing.
  • They can turn their ankles 180 degrees to face any direction when climbing.
  • Because the eyes are on both sides of the head they have a large field of vision without turning their heads.
  • Like other rodents, the squirrel’s front teeth are always growing and they must wear them down by gnawing.
  • There may be as many as 25 squirrels in each square kilometre in urban areas.
  • The impressive tail is used for balance, as a rudder while swimming, a blanket and an umbrella for sun and rain. It also serves as a parachute when they can fall up to 30 metres without hurting themselves.
  • Rapid shaking of the tail means danger is present. Slow undulation of the tail means that the animal is agitated. When the tail is placed against the back, the danger has passed.
  • Squirrels have 5 toes on their back feet and 4 on their front feet.
  • When you see their tracks in snow or soil, the hind prints fall slightly ahead of the fore prints.
  • Unlike raccoon scat, we rarely see squirrel poop as the pellets, which are smaller than a raisin, are often dropped while the animal is on the run or high in a tree .
  • Squirrels are often seen burying nuts or acorns in the ground. Studies show that about 85% are recovered. Some of the rest grow into trees.
  • Because squirrels are so good at invading almost any birdfeeder, an industry has arisen making squirrel-proof feeders with names like “Twirl-a-Squirrel.” I write about my own experiences in a future article.
  • Food is very available in urban areas which results in the occasional obese squirrel. This usually leads to tragedy as the over-eater become unable to flee from its predators.
  • Look up when you are driving. That is a squirrel gingerly crossing a busy thoroughfare on a narrow hydro wire!

Miles Hearn

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Grey Squirrel

 

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