American red squirrel: ‘Chatter box’ of the forest!

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Photo by DON BARTLING In autumn the American red squirrel is very active all day as they get ready for the winter food shortages. The squirrel’s compact muscled body, strong claws, and strong back legs make it good at climbing and running through trees.

I remember it was the first encounter with our terrier/Shih Tzu and the neighborhood American red squirrel. Our dog was wanting out on the deck so we opened the door and the squirrel was on the deck. She tried to corner the squirrel underneath the barbecue grill, but failed. The little squirrel was too fast and jumped off the deck and ran up a tree — and when it was safe, let out a scolding chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp that was familiar to all forest visitors. She definitely gave our dog a piece of her mind; even when we went inside the squirrel was still chattering away and flapping its tail until we were out of sight.

The American red squirrel’s scientific name is Tamisciurus Hudsonicus. Tamisciurus comes from the Greek words for “storer,” “shade,” and “tail.” Hudsonicus refers to Hudson Bay, Canada, where in 1777 the first red squirrel specimens were obtained for scientific study.

The American red squirrel is amongst the smaller of the tree squirrels. Its fur color can be very different, depending on the season and where it lives. Brownish or reddish are the usual colors of the upper parts. In summer, it has a black stripe along it side, which separates the dark upper fur from the creamy or white fur. The squirrel’s tail is often edged with white and is not as thick as in other tree squirrel’s. Its large black eyes are encircled by white bands.

This squirrel’s compact muscled body, strong claws, and strong back legs make it good at climbing and running through trees.

American red squirrels live in most parts of the North American continent, including the southern part of Alaska, most of Canada, coastal British Columbia, and the Rocky Mountains. They live in a variety of forests, including deciduous, coniferous and mixed forests. They can also make their homes in urban areas, as long as there are cool, coniferous forests nearby.

Red squirrels are mostly active during the day but sometimes they will be active during the night. In spring and summer, their most active periods are mornings and afternoons, but coming into autumn they are very active all day as they get ready for the winter food shortages.

Both male and female squirrels will vigorously defend exclusive territories against competitors. Aside from mothers with their young, the red squirrel is a solitary creature. Its nest, called a drey, can be made in different places, such as tree hollows or crotches, or hollows in the ground or in logs. It is a very vocal animal, making sounds of chattering, growling and screeching.

Red squirrels are opportunistic feeders that consume tree buds, flowers, mushrooms, berries, pine seeds, and even bird eggs and small nestlings. In the fall, they clip green pine cones from trees and store them in one or more large caches for winter access. Usually, some cones go uneaten and sprout into saplings. Because of this, red squirrels play an important ecological role in pine tree propagation. While it forages over a large area, a red squirrel usually returns to a single tree before eating. A large pile of pine cones, scales, and seeds, known as a “midden,” accumulates at this site, often growing over multiple squirrel generations.

Red squirrels mate from March through June, with several males battling over a female. After a one-month gestation, she gives birth in a woodpecker cavity or a nest of grasses and sticks nestled within a tree hollow or branches. The average litter of three kits are born hairless and blind. The mother nurses the kits for about two months before urging them to move out of the nest. Young squirrel mortality is high, with 75 percent perishing in their first year. Those that survive their first few years have long life spans relative to other squirrel species. In the wild, red squirrels live five years on average and have been documented living as long as 10 years.

These squirrels can be very noisy and have been given the nickname of “chatter boxes”.

Enjoy the outdoors in Boundary County and all its wildlife!

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