by Cephas (own work)
Red squirrels are small mammals that inhabit forested areas. They live in, climb on, and eat from trees. They have strong claws for gripping branches, muscles adapted to climbing and running, and powerful back legs that help them push off when they jump from branch to branch of a tree.
Red squirrels mainly eat seeds from the cones of conifer trees, but they will also eat nuts, bark, insects, tree sap, mushrooms, bird eggs, and mice. Red squirrels store food in separate caches that they return to later using memory and their excellent sense of smell. They then uncover the stored food and eat it. When a squirrel forgets about a cache and doesn’t return to it, the seeds left there sometimes grow into new trees.
Red squirrels are very territorial. Any one who has walked through a forest with red squirrels in it has probably heard their angry chatter. This sound is a squirrel’s way of saying “Hey! Get out of here! This is my home territory! Go away!” You can hear the sound for yourself at the YouTube link below.
Red squirrels have many predators, including pine martens, hawks (including the northern goshawk), owls, bobcat, lynx, and other creatures. Researchers estimate that only 25% of red squirrels that are born will survive to become adults.
Red squirrels are messy eaters. They have to pull the scales of pine cones off in order to get at the seeds inside, and they often leave the scales in a pile wherever they have been eating. Red squirrels will sometimes return to the same picnic spot in their territory over and over again, leaving large jumbled piles of pine cone scales littering the location they prefer. These piles are called middens. The next time you get a chance to walk in a forest where squirrels live, keep an eye out for middens. Once you start to see them, you will see them everywhere!
This red squirrel is eating seeds from a balsam fir cone. Donna Dewhurst/US Fish and Wildlife Service
Dewey, T. and E. Ellis. 2007. “Tamiasciurus hudsonicus” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed January 12, 2011 http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Tamiasciurus_hudsonicus.html.
Ruff, S., D. Wilson. 1999. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington [D.C.]: Smithsonian Institution Press in association with the American Society of Mammalogists.
Stensaas, Mark. Canoe Country Wildlife: A Field Guide to the North Woods and Boundary Waters. Minneapolis: Pfeiffer Hamilton, 2004.