October is Squirrel Awareness Month: Be Aware!

October is Squirrel Awareness Month

When I spoke with Nancy Agafitei, the Branch Librarian at the Barbara Bush Branch Library, about Squirrel Awareness Month, she said that her dog was very aware of squirrels, especially about one hour before it’s time to wake up, when he begins to bark loudly at them. This makes the whole household aware of squirrels.

If you are not so fortunate as to have an alert member of the canine species in your house here are some resources to help you become more aware:

The Natural History of Squirrels / John Gurnell

A detailed examination of northern hemisphere tree squirrels follows a short general survey of squirrels of the world and their evolutionary history. Tree squirrel diet, foraging, feeding, activity, behavior, social interactions, use of space, population dynamics, community ecology, and interactions with humans are described using scientific studies, including the author’s own. This is followed by a twelve-page bibliography.

Among these studies are some fascinating tidbits of squirrel behavior. For example, “squirrels like humans, are either right-handed or left-handed” (page 42). This discovery came from a 1981 observational study of squirrels eating pinecones. They tilted the cone base up to their mouths characteristically tilting to either left or right according to the individual squirrel. Supporting the cone in one paw, the squirrel tore off the scale with its teeth and using a finger of the other paw to extract the seed and rapidly popped it into its mouth.

Although individuals in a species will vary in the color of their fur from white to a very dark gray, in the wild the characteristic gray or reddish hue of the species as a whole will depend on the forest environment. Reddish squirrel species tend to live among the reddish trunks of evergreens. Gray squirrels live among deciduous trees, especially among oaks with their gray bark. Other studies discovered that tree squirrels although solitary animals, will signal a loud alarm to their neighbors when they spot an approaching predator. These are the same neighbors who are otherwise treated as rivals for food and, depending on the species, territory.

Squirrels a Wildlife Handbook     Squirrels: a Wildlife Handbook / Kim Long; scientific advisor, Vagn Flyger
The physiology, life cycles, behavior and diet of eleven American and Canadian tree and flying squirrel species are described in this accessible and entertaining handbook. While it lacks the detailed scientific studies surveyed by Gurnell’s book, it is full of useful information for the amateur naturalist. And it includes some interesting information about pinecones, acorns, squirrel migrations, the variety of names for squirrels, information on feeding them or keeping them out of your birdfeeder or removing them from your property.  

Outwitting Squirrels      Outwitting Squirrels: 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels / Bill Adler, Jr.
A humorous compendium of advice, much of it tongue in cheek, about bird feeding and squirrels. Adler lists Gurnell’s book in his bibliography, and he interviews Long’s scientific advisor Vagn Flyger So he’s done his homework. He condenses much of this information in the third and fourth chapters of Outwitting Squirrels as “Know the enemy” and “The Unbearable Persistence of Squirrel Appetites.” He has a chapter on “Rating the Feeders.”  Although the information on particular models is now outdated, it shows which designs will work or fail and why.

And on the Internet there's the all new Squirrel Place for all manner of squirrely information.

Next week: More information on keeping squirrels out of your bird feeder. Is it possible, and if so, how can I do it?