Saturday, April 12, 2008

Foraging squirrels

Eastern gray squirrels are an adaptable species, so are quite at home in our wooded gardens and urban neighborhoods. We've had lots of fun watching them in our garden, especially after they were banished from the attic by a new gutter and roof, so now live in leafy dreys up in the old red oak trees. Their preferred foods are acorns and hickory nuts, but they'll also eat mushrooms, fruits, and young leaves and buds.

They do dig holes everywhere this time of the year, sniffing out buried acorns and hickory nuts & checking out whether there might be a tasty bulb planting. I don't find this tremendously bothersome, although they do dig holes in my flats of young lettuce and container plantings. But I just smooth the potting mix or soil back and figure I've got plenty of seedlings anyway.

They have a habit of chewing young buds and leaves this time of year, and folks that have young trees that are particularly desirable (think Japanese maples), which must have sweet, nutrient-rich buds, can see a good bit of herbivory. But we were surprised the other evening, sitting out on the porch, by two of our furry residents yumming up the young leaves and buds of the water oak in front of the house. We couldn't tell if they were eating the young catkins -- but definitely they were nibbling on shoot tips and young leaves. My gardening companion took some nice shots of these herbivores in action.

3 comments:

  1. They're cute as can be, but they sure can be destructive! :)

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  2. This is so interesting - I've grown up with always having squirrels in the yard and I've never seen them eat new shoots, damage plants or dig holes. I think that where I live, perhaps they have a completely different diet and habits? The most annoying thing they do here is raid birdfeeders and rain down a hail storm of douglas fir cones onto the lawns in fall. After reading other gardeners posts about the damage their gardens suffer from squirrels, I'm quite pleased with mine :)

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  3. Amy,
    Thanks for your comment -- it encouraged me to investigate 'your' squirrels in BC, and interestingly, they're red squirrels (or pine squirrels), in contrast to our Eastern grey squirrels.

    And, although they do eat buds and fungi, in addition to Doug fir seeds, and others, they cache their green cones in large midden-like piles, rather than burying acorns and hickory nuts singly in the fall, like ours do.

    So, no wonder they're not digging holes everywhere now looking for them!

    But red squirrels are like grey squirrel in being quite flexible in their feeding behavior, depending on the foods available. And I'm wondering about whether in poorer mast years, when there are fewer nuts, etc. produced whether we have more herbivory in our gardens, as populations of squirrels rise and fall, and expand in especially productive habitats, such as our gardens and parks.

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