The different tree squirrel species of North America have played a … – Midland Daily News


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Hanging by the toes of one foot onto a “squirrel-proof” wire to access a “squirrel-proof” bird feeder is no problem and great fun for this fox squirrel.
The first try to lift the lid didn’t work, so it is time for the fox squirrel to tilt the bird feeder in order to spill bird seed onto the ground.
Success!
Tom Lounsbury
The different tree squirrel species of North America have played a very important role in nature since time beginning. Being very industrious rodents, they instinctively develop countless food caches of nuts and seeds, which they bury in the ground each fall for a steady and dependable wintertime food source.
A University of Richmond study says 74% of the caches made by squirrels will remain unrecovered and points out why squirrels are very important to reforestation, especially regarding oaks and other nut-producing trees.
Squirrels typically bury nuts only about an inch into the soil, which is a perfect depth and condition for germination and causes a nut to start on its way to developing into a tree when spring arrives. It has been estimated that a single squirrel can bury 10,000 nuts in a single autumn before winter sets in.
Squirrels are very notorious and competitive thieves amongst themselves, and are constantly stealing each other’s nut caches. In fact, 25% of what each squirrel buries gets discovered by other squirrels and stolen. Squirrels possess a very keen sense of smell and can easily detect a buried nut cache, but with so many caches buried here and there, plenty of them are forgotten or missed, hence the dependable reforestation factor. Squirrels are well known as being nature’s gardeners.
Squirrels on my family farm in the Thumb, due to a lack of required habitat, were noticeably absent when I was growing up. But that would eventually change when my wife, Ginny, and I purchased 10 acres on the back of the farm in 1976 from my parents. We started with nothing but a bare corn-stubble field to build our home on, but it was the perfect setting for starting some well-thought-out plans of close-to-home wildlife habitat.
Included in this were 60 black walnut trees, which I combined with other trees and shrubs (including hazelnut trees) on our north and west property boundaries. It took a while, but when my habitat matured enough, especially the black walnut trees, squirrels began to arrive near our home. Ginny and I were thrilled when the first fox squirrel arrived, which of course immediately targeted our bird feeder! More and more fox squirrels kept showing up after that.
Squirrels are well known for doing some migrating, especially when their numbers begin to build up in a certain area, and they follow avenues which can allow cover from predators, such as river and creek bottoms, drainage ditches and fencerows, all of which are near our family farm. (More recently, gray squirrels have also arrived near our home.)
There are several nearby wood lots in all four directions which offer plenty of squirrel habitat. I know this because I have avidly hunted some of them since I was a kid. Yep, folks, I’m a dedicated squirrel hunter, and I have an ardent admiration of squirrels. They are very intelligent, sharp-eyed and wary, and hunting them has allowed me to learn a whole lot about motivating and carefully observing matters in a woodsy environment.
It was this atmosphere which even got me into bird watching and flora identification. I also believe squirrels are quite delicious in a variety of recipes and they are a very popular small-game animal in Michigan and elsewhere.
However, although I could legally do so, I have never hunted the squirrels which reside around our home. Ginny and I truly enjoy watching them, and I’ve had an ongoing contest which I also much enjoy, in trying to outwit squirrels who continually access my bird feeders. As I mentioned before, squirrels are very intelligent critters, are keenly observant, and can be devious rascals, a fact I must admit I’ve grown to deeply admire and respect. They have pretty much whupped me at every attempt, but I do love to keep trying!
Squirrel season used to go from Sept. 15 (the opening day I continue to much revere) to the end of December. It would eventually be extended to March 1, and not long ago, it was extended to March 31, which I fully support and appreciate. I dearly love all the techniques employed for squirrel hunting and even have a pair of squirrel dogs which offer a unique and often action-packed pastime, like rabbit hunting with hounds.
In the fall of 2021, House Bill 5390 proposed having squirrel hunting for gray squirrels (including the black color phase) and fox squirrels open the year around. Well, folks, that didn’t float my boat at all, and I made my opinion very clear to state representatives, and wrote about it as well. HB-5390 basically redefined a pair of wonderful squirrel species as being “vermin.” The last I heard, HB-5390 had died on the vine, so to speak, but I didn’t breathe easy until the 2022 Michigan Hunting Digest came out and stated that the September 15 – March 31 squirrel season remained in place.
The little red squirrel (sometimes called a “pine squirrel” due to its key association with conifers) can be taken the year around (there is no hunting season), and it is basically considered a “pest,” which I wholeheartedly agree with. Yep, they sure are cute and very animated in everything they do, and I’ve seen red squirrels do some remarkable lengthy leaps for their size from one tree to the next. They can, however, be a nuisance for homeowners, and if they gain access to an attic, for instance, they can make a real mess in no time.
I once had a homeowner contact me requesting assistance in removing red squirrels from her fifth-wheel camper. Red squirrels had gained access through a very small opening near the air conditioner, and had all winter to literally trash the interior, as well as chew on some wiring for dessert! I contacted a dependable “critter-gitter” whom I know, who came in and got rid of the red squirrels.
I discovered red squirrels had gained access to my tool shed, when I was checking out my Oliver Tractor last spring. I noticed a cardboard box on a nearby shelf had been torn up and a mutilated teddy bear was lying beside it. I soon discovered where all the teddy bear stuffing was when I lifted the lid to the tractor’s battery housing. The entire housing was packed tight, and as I pulled stuffing out, I found several stored black walnuts in the mix. While I was pulling out more stuffing, a red squirrel ran up my arm, leapt off my shoulder and made good its escape. Yep, folks, that will sure wake you up! The entrance to the squirrel’s nest was near the bottom of the battery housing, where wires went through a small opening.
While checking out a wren house in my yard last spring, I discovered it contained a family of flying squirrels (which are legally protected), and I immediately backed off and have left them alone. I knew I had the habitat for flying squirrels, but this was the first time I realized they were around, which truly thrilled me. They are nocturnal critters and I have yet to witness any gliding about during the night, but I am looking forward to if or when it happens.
As it turns out, a whole lot of folks appreciate squirrels, and since 1995, October is “Squirrel Awareness Month.” Fast approaching, January 21 is “National Squirrel Appreciation Day.” In my mind, this relates primarily to squirrels found in municipal parks and residential yards, which I think is wonderful.
I certainly don’t mind recognizing all of this in our yard, where it is an ongoing process, anyway. However, October, with the fall colors coming on, is a favorite timeframe for me to be enjoying hunting in the “squirrel woods,” and January is the month when I start sharing the wintertime woods with my squirrel dogs on a regular basis.
I guess you might say I’m doing a bushytail celebration in my own way, with respect and admiration.
Email freelance outdoors writer Tom Lounsbury at tlounsburyoutdoors@gmail.com
 

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