Winter has not quite left us here in Southeast Alaska. The pussy willows are awake and budding, though, and critters are starting to move around more. This little guy was out foraging.
You just knew that I couldn’t go much longer without putting a critter on here!
The red squirrels in Alaska are small creatures, about the size of chipmunks elsewhere. It’s the diet, see. It is tough for squirrels around here to get enough nutrition to evolve into bigger squirrels. A big part of what this squirrel eats is the seeds out of spruce cones. Those seeds are tiny, and it takes thousands of them a day to keep an Alaskan squirrel in grub.
Alaskan red squirrels do have variety in their diet – they will chew on shed deer antlers for minerals, eat an egg or a baby bird, and slurp down buds, berries and mushrooms. As the spruce trees are putting on cones, though, the squirrels will be busy caching and eating spruce cones by the thousands. A red squirrel cache may contain several bushels of green spruce cones.
Not every squirrel has been gifted with squirrel smarts. One autumn I watched one of these guys cutting cone after cone off of a branch with those sharp rodent teeth, and then dropping the cones down to the ground. Only there was a creek under the tree, and most of the cones fell into the water and were swept away. When the squirrel came down to the ground to gather it’s day’s work there appeared to be confusion about the math. It just didn’t add up.
Red squirrels are very territorial. When one stakes out a patch of trees they announce their claim vociferously. Trespassers trying to horn in on their pantry will be yelled at and chased. Young red squirrels often have a difficult time finding a territory of their own, and may not make it through their first winter if they fail to stake a claim.
When I am trying to be vewy-vewy quiet in the woods there are usually two loudmouths that rat me out. One is the Stellar’s jay, a pretty blue and black corvid with a raucous voice. The other is the red squirrel. Squirrels may start with a sharp chirping sound or go straight into a raspy diatribe. You want to know what one of these squirrels sounds like? About like this:
As much as I might want to shake one by the scruff of its little neck for informing everyone in the neighborhood that I am there, I leave them alone. They are fun little guys to watch, racing up a tree trunk, making death-defying leaps from branch to branch, or raiding the bird feeder on your deck. Peanut butter is a big favorite of theirs, hint, hint.
This squirrel stood its ground, looked at me with one eye and then the other, and then told me off in staccato squirrel-speak. Hey, it was his stump, and I wasn’t trying to sneak around in the crunchy snow anyway. It was really nice to see the little guy, too. The big migrations of birds haven’t started yet and the bears seem to be asleep still, so some liveliness in the woods is a bright spot.
May the little critters make you smile,
See more Southeast Alaska wildlife by going to the Alaskan Critters index.