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Barbara Damrosch

 home’s landscaping

Updating your home’s landscaping is a great way to increase the value of your property and create outdoor spaces for relaxing and entertaining. Unique ideas here will make your garden fit for a king

Landscape design is an independent profession and a design and art tradition, practised by landscape designers, combining nature and culture. In contemporary practice, landscape design bridges the space between landscape architecture and garden design.


Squirrel Behavior

In North America the only squirrels that are nocturnal are the flying squirrels while the tree and pine squirrels living a primarily diurnal, daytime, lifestyle. Hibernation is not common for squirrels; however, American Red Squirrels who live in the far northern reaches of their range have been known to enjoy a long winter’s nap.

Squirrels are sometimes very vocal and sometimes very quiet. Flying Squirrels are not known for making a lot noise, nor are the Red Squirrels, but the Douglas Squirrel can be quite noisy, especially when they detect approaching danger including predators or if they are fighting over territories. Of the tree squirrels the most vocal is the Eastern Fox Squirrel.

Reproduction varies between the species found in North America, too. For the Flying Squirrel species, the northern species reproduce only once per year with the Southern Flying squirrels mating twice per year. The Red Squirrels living in northing climates mate only in the late winter, but will mate twice per year if they are residing in warmer areas of the continent. Of the tree squirrels, the Eastern Gray and Eastern Fox Squirrels mate twice per year and generally in December and June, but the Western Gray, Arizona Gray, and Aberts Squirrels mate only once per year.

In general North American squirrel species will give birth to as many as eight (8) babies several times per year. The babies are born blind and are dependent on their mothers between two (2) and three (3) months

Squirrel Benefits & Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem

Squirrels have many benefits to humans.  They are often hunted for food and their fur.  The fur from the tails of the gray squirrels is used in artist’s brushes.

Their treetop acrobatics can be great entertainment.

Unfortunately, they do some detriments to humans and the ecosystem.  They can host parasites that carry diseases such as the plague and rocky tick fever.

Squirrels are chewers and this has caused a host of problems including damage to birdfeeders, maple syrup pipelines, and even structures.  The most destructive damage comes when they chew on electrical power lines.  It has been well documented that their chewing habit has caused fires.

Their arboreal habitat puts them in close proximity to overhead phone and power lines. Shorting out of electrical transformers has been blamed on the high wire travels of Squirrels. 

Squirrel Diet

Squirrel Diet consists mainly of nuts and seeds. In some cases squirrels will eat birds and bird eggs. Insects may also be eaten. They have strong affinity for bark, sap and young saplings. The diet of the squirrel can cause considerable headaches to the home gardener and commercial growers, too.

Squirrel Diet-Food

The food eaten is similar for most every species in the US and Canada. These include acorns, tree buds, maple sap, tree bark and very young saplings. Berries and other fruits are eaten including pears and apples. They enjoy flowers and fruit tree blossoms, too. Seeds and acorns make up the majority of their diet in the wild with sunflower seeds a true favorite. In parks and college campuses they will become fond of more “human” fare comprised of pizza and bread to name a few.

In your yard and garden the squirrel diet may lead them to eat the corn from your vegetable garden, petunias and geraniums from your flower beds and strip the bark from ornamental trees. Of course, any bulbs planted in the fall are fair game for squirrels as well. They have all too often been known to eat the plastic and wood around bird feeders to get to that tender store bought seed you’ve placed for the song birds!

Squirrel Diet-Physical Attributes

To assist in getting at those delicious seeds and fruits the animals are designed for climbing through the tree tops and climbing through the tree tops is serious business. Tree squirrels and Red squirrels have very powerful legs to help jump, a fifth digit on their rear paws to help grasp and perhaps their signature feature, those bushy tails! Not only are these tails attractive, they assist the animal in balancing as they reach for that elusive acorn.

Flying squirrels have added assistance in the tree top life, the patagiuim. This is the web of skin that acts as a sail allowing them to gracefully glide from higher to lower branches quickly and precisely.

As with all rodents, all species of squirrels have continuously growing incisors and must continuously gnaw and chew. They do not have problems with overgrowth of their teeth because their favorite foods are nuts and acorns and the tough outer shells of these fruits keep those incisors in line.

Squirrel Diet-Seasonal Variances

General seasonal differences apply to the squirrel diet in that foods are eaten as they come to maturity including nuts, seeds and fruits. While squirrels do hoard food throughout the year, this hoarding becomes steadier in late summer as they prepare for winter in northern climates.

Squirrel Diet-Benefits and Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem

The diet of the squirrel has little benefit to humans. In the wild squirrels can cause damage to forest trees by chewing on the bark which can be detrimental to young trees. Also, it has been noted that pine squirrels (Red and Douglas) actually remove 60% to 80% of the seed cones in Ponderosa pine forests causing a disruption in the natural reseeding of these trees.

Commercially, high squirrel populations can affect harvests on nut farms and can affect fruit orchards by eating blossoms and fruits along with the bark of the trees.

At home the somewhat voracious squirrel diet can cause damage to flower and vegetable gardens and their hoarding practices can leave carefully tended lawns dotted with holes from digging. They will damage bird houses and bird feeders to get to the small birds or that tender seed. The animals will chew on the tender young bark of ornamental trees to the point where the health of the trees may be compromised.

Before we banish them completely, it should be noted that the benefits of the squirrel diet while less prominent, do occur. This includes the enjoyment found by many while watching the animals climbing through the tree tops. Also, because they have several stashes of hidden food, much of which is never recovered and, consequently, germinates and grows, dispersal of plant seed is a major benefit of the squirrel diet.

Squirrel Eastern Grey Squirrel

Scientific Name: Sciurus carolinensis
Phylum: Chrodata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciuridae
Genus: Sciurus
Species: carolinensis

Squirrel Introduction

Squirrels in your yard and garden could be one (1) of four (4) types of squirrels, flying, tree, pine, or ground squirrels. Ground squirrels are covered in another page entitled chipmunks. With more than 300 species across the globe we could write you a novel. To keep it short the focus will be limited to flying, tree and pine squirrels common in North America.

No matter what the species, squirrels are one of nature’s most agile creatures moving effortlessly from branch to branch at heights over 60 feet. From the largest and smallest tree these fluffy tailed mammals make a precarious yet precise journey though the treescape at a speed that would make even Tarzan jealous.

Squirrel Evidence of Intrusion

Squirrel evidence of intrusion may be as simple as witnessing the creatures in your yard or gardens. However, this may not be the case and with so many animals willing to partake in the bounty that is your yard it may be difficult to determine who is eating, damaging or has moved in. Try these tips below to establish if the tree, pine or flying squirrel is intruding in your yard.

Squirrel Evidence of Intrusion-Birdfeeder Sightings

Squirrels can’t resist the temptations brought on by a freshly filled bird feeder. If you don’t catch them red handed with their paw in the cookie jar than look for claw and bite marks near the feeder holes.

Squirrel Evidence of Intrusion-Scat

A not-so-fun way to determine if a squirrel has been visiting your yard and gardens is if they have left a little excrement, or scat behind. Squirrel Scat will oblong in shape and relatively small in size. In areas with tree squirrels such as fox and gray look for small pellets less than ½ inch; even smaller for the flying and red squirrels.

Squirrel Evidence of Intrusion-Tracks

Despite the fact that squirrels are mostly arboreal (hang around in the tree tops) they do spend a fair amount of time on the ground. How else would they get to your best petunia flowers? Squirrel tracks, as with any animal, will be most easily found in soft soil, sandy areas or in snow. Look for narrow rear tracks with five (5) toes accompanied by the front track with only four (4) toes. The hind feet will land ahead of the front feet in groups of four (4) such as in the image of an Eastern Gray Squirrel below.

Squirrel Evidence of Intrusion-Birdhouse Destruction/Missing Babies or Eggs

If your nestlings or eggs are disappearing from your bird houses without much disturbance to the nest itself it could be a very hungry squirrel. Look for claw or bite marks near the entrance holes.

Squirrel Evidence of Intrusion-Nut Shells

Squirrels do not partake in the hard outer covering of the acorns and nuts they find in your yard. Look for broken pieces of acorns and walnut shells with the meaty nuts mysteriously missing.

Squirrel Evidence of Intrusion-Pine Cone Damage

If you live west, look for chewed cones and needle clusters on the ground. If you live east you may find large piles of cone scales on the ground. Both are good indicators of Squirrel intrusion.

Squirrel Evidence of Intrusion-Noises in the Attic

One of these most detrimental behaviors of a squirrel and perhaps any animal is when they choose to rent out space in your attic without talking it over with you first! One of the best forms of evidence is the sound of these busy little creatures running around above your head. Listen for squirrels intruding in your home in the early morning hours or in the evening hours.

Squirrels are quite obvious and are only occasionally secretive. This behavior lends to the more obvious signs or squirrel evidence of intrusion.

Squirrel Habitat

Squirrel Habitat in the US and Canada is in mainly in forested regions, however, the animals live in a variety of habitats worldwide ranging from tropical rain forests to the arctic tundra of Alaska.

Squirrel Habitat-Range

Squirrels exist on all but one (1) continent on earth, Australia. The table below illustrates the squirrels most common to North America and their specific squirrel habitat range.

Home ranges of the species vary from 200 yards for the Red Squirrel to seven (7) acres for gray squirrels to being dependent on food availability for the Aberts Squirrels of the southwest.

Squirrel Habitat-Nests

Squirrel nests for are used for shelter and raising young. Most habitat nesting sites include hollow trees or stumps. Nests are kept quite homey and lined carefully with shredded bark, leaves and mosses. Nest locations will vary slightly from species to species.

Most Squirrels will occupy two (2) types of homes, a drey and a den. The dreys are less permanent nests used in the summer and winter which are normally located in the crotch of trees 30-45 feet above the ground. Winter dreys are sturdier than the summer dreys, are lower in the trees, and more water resistant. It is not uncommon to find man made materials used in the winter dreys. Dens are inside of tree cavities and crevices and normally used in the winter as a sturdier alternative to a drey. The nests occasionally have a second entrance hole that serves as more of an escape route than an entrance. Nests will house groups of 2- 10 in the winter time.

Flying squirrels have nests that they use during the night and active hours called refugia nests and during the day called diurnal nests. Nests used for raising young are called natal nests. While Northern and Southern flying squirrels use the same types of nests they treat these types of habitat slightly differently. Southern flying squirrels, for example, will use their nests as bathrooms and for food storage while Northern flying squirrels do not employ this type of behavior.

Red squirrels will occasionally nest underground much like the ground squirrels by building multi chambered tunnels under rotting logs; however this type of habitat nesting is rare according to experts.

From the forests of the highest peaks in the Rocky Mountains to the prairies of northern Mexico, the North American continent provides excellent squirrel habitat.

Squirrel Interesting Facts

Interesting facts about squirrels are quite numerous, for example did you know that there are over 300 species of squirrels in the world? Read on for more squirrel interesting facts.

  • The back feet of squirrels can turn 180 degrees which gives them the ability to climb head first down trees.
  • The fluffy tails of the squirrel are used for many wonderful things including acting as a rudder to help steer the animal when it jumps, a tool for communication purposes and they are used to protect the animal from the elements including rain and sunshine.
  • Ever wonder how those squirrels made it onto your roof? Keep these facts in mind: Gray and Fox Squirrels are true acrobats and can jump sideways eight (8) feet, straight up four (4) feet, and down 15 feet.
  • All those acrobatics make for one sweaty animal! Squirrels have sweat glands on their feet. The scent left by their hot feet is often used to mark territories.
  • To expand their field of vision, helpful when your 60 feet in the air, the Squirrel has that are placed high, and on each side of their head.
  • Gray squirrels are considered “scatter hoarders” and hide one nut at time.
  • Gray squirrels rarely remember where they have hidden their stash!
  • Squirrels who do find their hidden stash may be using both memory and their sense of smell.
  • It has been hypothesized that for the Arizona Gray Squirrel mating activity is based on the blooming of flowers whose parts contain vitamin A. It is presumed that the vitamin A stimulates the reproductive activity.
  • Squirrels participate in mating chases. These chases involve several males and one (1) female and can last a full day from dawn until dusk. In fact the average mating chase will last eleven (11) hours.
  • Gray squirrels keep a clean house and will not use dens or dreys as a bathroom or to store food.
  • Since the babies don’t wear diapers, to keep a clean nest the mother will change out the nest material and it is even believed that that will drink and eat the babies´ excretions.
  • The young are taken good care of. Babies are well groomed and when mom leaves the nest she will cover them with a layer of dry grass.
  • Squirrels and electricity do not mix! Squirrels have been known to make transformers or capacitors regular stops while looking for food. Unfortunately, they are often electrocuted which results in power outages. According to some reports, squirrels are actually responsible for 25% of all power outages in the United States in any given year.
  • The most famous power outages attributed to Squirrels were at the NASDAQ stock market building in which squirrels have been blamed twice.
  • Back when the United States was being settled, marksmen used squirrel as an important source of meat. Some have extrapolated that squirrels should be credited with improving the colonist’s marksmanship and helping to design the guns that would later defeat the British in the revolutionary war.
    Squirrels have other historical significance as well. It has been said that some native North American groups traditionally would use the nesting material of the red and flying squirrel as an absorbent lining for diapers.
  • Flying squirrel scat is used as an ancient Chinese herbal remedy for abdominal pain, snake bites and nutritional deficiencies. This remedy is not available in the United States.

Squirrels are fun creatures with some potentially detrimental behaviors, and this combination leads to some pretty interesting squirrel facts.

Squirrel Natural History

Squirrels are found on all but two (2) continents in the world. Their life span in the wild can range from as little as four (4) years for flying squirrels and up to eighteen (18) years for fox squirrels. In captivity some have even lived to twenty (20) years.

Squirrel Physical Appearance

Squirrels in your yard are fairly easy to pick out, regardless of species. On the whole tree and flying squirrels are much larger than the chipmunks (ground squirrels) and have a tail that is much fuller.

The larger tree squirrels, including the fox, eastern gray, western gray and Abert’s Squirrel (tassel-eared) range in overall length, tail included, from 16 inches for the gray squirrels to 27 inches for the fox squirrels. Fox squirrels are the largest weighing up to 2 and ¼ pounds with the gray squirrel weighing, at most, 1 and ¾ pounds.

Pine Squirrels, which include the Red Squirrel and the Douglas Squirrel are much smaller with a length of 10 to 15 inches and weighing in at 1/3 to 2/3 pounds.

Flying squirrels are smaller yet measuring 10 inches at most for the southern varieties and 12 inches for the northern flying squirrels. Flying squirrels have a web of skin that connects their fore and hind legs at the wrist which allow them to glide through the tree tops. This membrane, or patagiuim, forms a gliding surface and acts much like a rudder on a boat that stabilizes the gliding actions.

Coloring varies between the species as well. The Fox Squirrels can be hard to identify by fur color. This is due to the fact that their coloring varies from light tan to gray. The undersides are lighter than the top color and they have white nose with black faces and feet.

Gray squirrels, Eastern and Western, are smoky gray in color and can be better distinguished by their ears and not their coloring. The Western Gray squirrel has large, prominent ears compared to the smaller ears of the Eastern Gray squirrels.

Pine squirrels, including the Red Squirrel, are, not surprisingly, reddish-brown with the Douglas’s squirrel are little closer to gray in hue. Both animals are creamy yellow beneath.

The Flying squirrels are grey to brown and very hard to distinguish between species, but are very distinguishable from tree squirrels due to their wing skin, patagiuim, and flattened tails.

All squirrels have five (5) toes on their hind legs and four (4) on their front with long sharp claws atop each toe.