The Gray Squirrel
Have you ever watched a gray squirrel get to a "squirrel-proof" bird feeder? It's a good show as they try to jump from a nearby tree onto the feeder or hang from a branch to try to reach the food. They are persistent and will try over and over again to reach the feeder. They are fun to watch and easy to see. This makes them one of the most well known critters in Wisconsin.
These bird feeder bandits are common throughout Wisconsin. Gray squirrels are found in just about every wooded area in the state, both in the country and in cities. They live in hardwood forests or mixed coniferous-hardwood forests, especially if there are lots of nuts. You'll see them scamper across power lines and fences in cities where they are right at home living close to people.
Gray squirrels are members of the rodent family weighing in between 16-28 ounces. They're 18 to 21 inches long; but about one half of that is their bushy tail. The tail helps as balance when climbing and jumping. It also acts as a shield from wind and rain when the squirrel is curled up. Gray squirrels, are usually-- you guessed it--gray in color. They often have white hair behind their ears and on the chin, throat and belly. The whiskers on the gray squirrel are found above and below the eyes, in front of the throat and on the nose. These whiskers, known as vibrissae, give the squirrel information about the world around it. They have very good eyesight even in dim light, and a wide field of vision. This helps them avoid predators. They also have a good sense of smell and hearing. A good sense of smell comes in pretty handy when you need to find some acorns that you buried.
They love acorns and other nuts, along with the seeds of maple and elms. Nuts are stored for future use by burying them in scattered spots. Sometimes these nuts aren't rediscovered and they'll often germinate and grow in the spring. Gray squirrels also eat corn, berries, apples, sap and fungi. In cities, bird feeders supply squirrels with plenty of winter food.
Gray squirrels breed when they are a year old. They often have two litters of young, the first born in late March and early April, the second late July or early August. The babies are born without fur and pink. Their ears open at four weeks and their eyes at six weeks.
These critters don't travel too far from home and they always travel during the day. Where is home? It is usually a leaf nest or tree cavity. The leaf nests, called drays, can be pretty hard to spot in the summer when the tree is leafed out. But, look up in a tree in the fall and winter and you might spot the gray squirrel's leafy nest home.
Gray squirrels can be pests. They travel along power lines, sometimes shorting out transformers or even entire substations, putting people in the dark. You don't want them in your garden either. Watch out if you plant bulbs, because as soon as you get them in the ground, your neighborhood gray squirrel will dig them up.
Here are a few more squirrel fun facts:
Look and listen for this critter the next time you're in your yard or in the woods. You might see it peeking out from behind a tree or scolding you if you're disturbing it. Its tail will flick as it makes its familiar qwa-ak, awa-ak, ak-ak-ak-ak sound at you. And, if you have a bird feeder, don't be surprised if you see a gray squirrel hanging upside down from some tree limb trying to get a free meal.