I have been trying to take a picture of this for about two weeks now, for this blog post. But my squirrels are not cooperating: every time I see a couple of them engaged in this activity, the camera is elsewhere.
Pairs of squirrels run slowly along the top of the fence at the back of my yard, or up or down a tree trunk, Miss Squirrel, tantalizing, in the lead, and young Mr. Squirrel just behind, hoping to get lucky. It’s one of those two times a year—first in January/February, and again in May/July—when mating happens.
She gives off a come-hither scent, and that’s how he finds her. Then the chase is on. Sometimes it’s a threesome, and one male gets the prize. At other times the pursuit is all over the yard, and finally she leaps to a distant tree branch and charges off, and the guy slinks away, disappointed. But if he’s successful, she will give birth in March, or July/August.
Have you seen giant balls of leaves in the high crotches of trees? Those are squirrel nests, called dreys. You can casually use this word to impress your friends. Squirrels construct these large nests in the fall, from leafy twigs which they gnaw off the tree. They wrap the twigs around a high branch in the crotch of the tree, as a base for the drey, and then add more leafy twigs to it to form a nice round nest. Inside the nest is a softer lining. Several squirrels will share a drey during the winter. Dreys are remarkably sturdy and can withstand cold and high winds. The dreys in the picture went through Superstorm Sandy with no problems, unlike the power supply in the same neighborhood.
Squirrels are very good at locating nuts which they have buried, even under lots of snow. You might see what I call squirrel digs, places where the snow has been removed and dirt disturbed to make a little hole; that’s where a squirrel has dug up a part of his fall harvest. Your alert squirrel can find up to 85% of the nuts he buried in the fall.
The nuts—often acorns—that are not found and eaten can sprout and grow new trees. Squirrels don’t like to eat acorns which have already sprouted, though—they have been observed chewing out the part of the acorn from which the sprout comes before they bury it. Sort of like killing it before burial.
There are alpha squirrels and squirrels of lesser rank, depending on age, size or experience. Some of these matters are settled by fights. There might be tooth-chattering and tail-lashing going on. I have seen grappling, rolling, and wrestling squirrels on my deck. Scary stuff if you are a subordinate! Chases occur—high-speed ones in this case. If the pursuer gets close enough to the pursued, he may actually BITE OFF PART OF THE TAIL.
I know this is true because I found part of a squirrel tail on the sidewalk last fall. It must have just been detached from its owner, because there was a tiny dot of blood at the bony end. It was still floppy, and very soft. I was on my way to my book group, and I brought my squirrel tail along for everyone to pet. I do wonder how its owner managed without it, as the tails are an important aid not only for balance, but for warmth in the winter (like a cloak) and shade in the summer (like a parasol).
Although you may not like squirrels eating your bird seed, or living in your attic, we do share our world with them. We are lucky, we humans, that there are so many different and wonderful other animals to admire. What can you learn from a squirrel??