Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Depradations of Squirrels

Sciurus carolinensis.  The first part of the name means "shadow tail."  

It turns out sugar maple seeds aren't the only things squirrels eat.  I went looking for nuts on a shagbark hickory tree I knew, and had trouble finding them.  But a gentle rain pattered down from a clear sky, and the ground was littered with shell and nut fragments.   As I stood goggling at the destruction, a couple of fragments beaned me on the head (accompanied I'm sure by tiny, mocking, squirrel laughter).  Overhead power lines made a sort of highway linking the shagbark hickory to neighboring trees.  Some visitors arrived that way as I watched.

I wasn't too surprised, since other trees have been losing offspring to these furry felons.  A white oak around the corner from me has acorn shells beneath it, among its surviving children.  And several white pines of my acquaintance have the remains of dissected pine cones at their feet.  From the remains, it seems that squirrels eat pine cones they way we eat corn on the cob.  I try to picture this in my mind, to see if it is likely.  Probably not, but it's a nice image.

My reason for deprecating the damage isn't entirely altruistic.  I'd like to get a few hickory nuts to snack on, and white oak acorns are said to be nutritious food (acorns were the staple food of a thriving Pacific Northwest indian civilization)--and I've never known what they tasted like.

Mind you, I rather like squirrels when they're not hanging upside down from my bird feeder, or consuming the entire reproductive output of a tree.  (I've never seen one take a baby bird; that might put paid to my regard.)  But even then, they are about the cutest rodent we ever see in the city.  Once we had a feeder about eighteen inches from a screened window; one particular squirrel would repeatedly climb the screen, then pause, almost spread-eagled a few inches from my wondering eyes; it was fun to see his gaze longingly measuring the distance to the feeder against his difficult position, and his gray and white fur was the finest and softest imaginable.  (No science here, except the psychology of cuteness, which I am as prone to as any other.)

As night follows day, reproduction follows abundant food; so I expect to hear the patter of lots of little squirrel feet next season.

 I only saved the good ones!  Even so, you can see a few sugar maples samaras squirrels have hol- lowed out, and a lot that have little line-shaped bite marks.  (A few were tunneled out by insects.) 

 White oak (Quercus alba) acorns.
The whole, green ones escaped the squirrels and dropped on their own schedule.

 More white oak acorn shells.

 My grandfather used to make this kind of mess eating corn on the cob.
(But he was a lovely man with no other vices I know of.)

 The day after the party.

 I have no idea how they left nut pieces even across the street under a maple tree!

Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) has very distinctively brittle-shaggy bark.

This shagbark hickory above went from this:
to this, in only a few days!

The second shagbark hickory was served by a squirrel overpass.

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