By Gabriela Suarez
I live in Richmond and now realize the squirrels I see in my area are the western grey squirrels, I watch them while I wait for the bus sometimes and they follow me around when they’re able to smell my lunch – this makes me see them as interesting, bold creatures that are delightful yet intimidating. Sometimes they play and at other times they look busy as they forage for food for four to six hours a day, with the balance of the day spent lounging or sleeping.
There are a handful of squirrel species in California, but they can be separated into two distinct characteristics: Ground squirrels and arboreal squirrels. Ground squirrels will hibernate during winter, however arboreal squirrels do not hibernate. Instead, arboreal squirrels stay in their nests during unfriendly winter weather or forage throughout the cold season. Squirrels are as agile on their ground territory as they are among tree canopies. Their bodies can twist and turn on small thin branches and, when startled, they freeze and flatten their tail and body against a tree trunk, inching around the perimeter of the tree to avoid predators. According to Robert McCleery, an associate professor in the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation in the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Science, “Squirrels are some of the most visible wildlife in our modern urban and suburban settings, and they are a vital part of the ecosystems they inhabit”. Squirrels may beg for food or drop acorns on your head from the tree you are standing under, but this is a pretty harmless way of coexisting.
Western grey squirrels are authentic woodland mammals and need a connected range of oak trees to supply themselves with food and shelter. The majority of their diet consists of acorns, pine nuts, and underground fungi, which all are associated with trees. Now, if you ever notice a squirrel rubbing its face on an acorn, it is marking the seed with its scent to increase the chances that it will find it later! While living in Richmond and seeing many beautiful animals in our area such as deer, eagles, skunks, possums, a variety of birds and wild turkeys, and many, many squirrels, I’ve never seen a squirrel nest. This is likely because squirrels use two kinds of nests: tree dens and leaf nests called “dreys.” They build their nest in the top fork of a tree or in the crotch of a limb next to the trunk.
I think that squirrels show playfulness coupled with productivity. We could take a lesson from squirrels about how to engage in some fun while we manage certain tasks in our daily routines.
Read more about common urban and suburban wildlife like, coyotes and foxes, in our previous What’s in Your Watershed articles!