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FAQ About Squirrels

What do you know about squirrels in your backyard?

What family do squirrels belong to?

What color are the squirrels in your neighborhood?

How can you tell one species from another?

Which squirrels like to live in cities?

There are many fun observations you can make about squirrels in your community. These little critters are some of the most loved animals in the wildlife world, and they are right under your nose... well, maybe right under your house! Or porch! Or tree!

Squirrels make a great "science project" because they are essential parts of our ecosystem, even urban ecosystems. They eat, mate, give birth, plant seeds...and provide other services for our natural communities. Can you make a list of all the services squirrels provide in their natural community?

Where do you find Red Squirrels most often?

Coniferous forests. Red Squirrels feed on the seeds and cones of Pine trees, Fir trees and Spruce trees.

Which are the most common tree squirrels found in America?

The Gray Squirrel. They often live in cities and close to humans -- and eat a wide variety of food from nuts, seeds and fruit to human trash including bread, meat and table scraps.

What are squirrels most talented at doing?

Tree squirrels run fast and jump long distances on tiny branches high up in trees. Ground squirrels dig long tunnels very fast. Many squirrels chatter and use their tails to communicate a complex language. All squirrels have very sharp teeth and flexible front paws -- and are very smart about opening containers and solving other food-related challenges. Squirrels have sensitive hearing. Squirrels have big eyes that see very well -- but they are on the sides of their heads, so they don't see what's at the tip of their nose. That's one reason it can be dangerous to feed a squirrel -- it can't see your fingers and might accidentally bit you if you get too close.

Are squirrels friendly?

Tree squirrels -- especially Gray Squirrels -- are quite used to humans and many will come close to people hoping they will be fed. However, squirrels deserve our respectful distance. They have very sharp teeth and sharp claws and defend themselves by biting and scratching if they are startled. However, they are fun to observe. Think of it like this -- people are HUGE to the little squirrels. If a HUGE animal tried to play with you...would you defend yourself? Of course! So treat them with gentle respect...and they can be wonderful "wild friends".

Do squirrels live in houses?

Squirrels build their own "houses" for summer use, and they live in cavities in large trees during cold winter months to keep them warm. They are mammals, so they need to protect themselves from both cold and hot weather just like people do.

However, did you mean, "do squirrels live in people houses?" Yes, they sometimes do find a way to climb into an attic or empty room. They love being protected from natural enemies such as hawks and cats and even snakes. And they enjoy the snug warmth, too. Squirrels can be pretty noisy in an attic -- so if you don't want squirrels in your attic, prevention is the best solution. Making sure that small holes are reparied with metal plates, and that scrap food is removed will encourage squirrels to go find their natural home space and natural food sources. Use metal whenever possible -- avoid plastic, PVC and wood in squirrel territory.

You might want to place pet food dishes, garbage cans and bird feeders carefully -- they look like a holiday dinner to a hungry squirrel! It's a lot easier than foraging for nuts and fruit, so they will visit these human diners every day once they are discovered.

Why do squirrels dig in the garden and flowerbeds?

Squirrels hide their extra nuts in the soil, under logs, and under leaves in "caches". Then they hunt for them when they get hungry ... so as they smell good food buried in nice soft soil in a garden, they just naturally dig there. You can prevent some of this digging in special places by covering areas with hardware cloth, a heavy metal screen with half inch grids. This can even be used in flower pots.

Why do squirrels chew on electrical wires and hoses?

Squirrels' teeth grow very fast and they have to continuously sharpen and shorten them, so they chew on hard things like twigs to sharpen, clean and trim their long teeth. Urban squirrels have discovered that electrical wire and hoses work just as well!

Why do squirrels have such long tails?

Tree squirrels, in particular, have long tails to help them balance as they run up and down and from tree to tree. It's like holding a stick sideways when we balance on a beam. Squirrels also use their long fluffy tails as an "umbrella" -- to shade them from hot sunlight, sheild them from rain, warm them during cold weather, and as a flag to communicate with other squirrels.

How fast are squirrels?

Tree squirrels run and jump so fast that they have been clocked at 20 miles per hour. The average squirrel ususally scampers at about half that speed. However -- they don't do so well on streets. Squirrels have a habit of stopping when danger runs toward them -- but not cars. When they use this natural behavior on streets, cars tend to run over them.

When is the best time to observe squirrels?

Tree squirrels are active during the day -- unlike most other rodents such as mice, rats, raccoons and opossums. Being mammals, they like nice temperatures, so you find them during the summer time, during cool hours -- early morning and late evening. In the winter time, they like afternoon sunshine to help keep them warm.

Where do you find squirrels?

Tree squirrels like trees! Duh! But some squirrels such as the Douglas Squirrel, likes conifer forests because they love to eat pine cones. But Gray squirrels like acorns -- so they live in and near oak trees. You find squirrels in the best food territories for the particular species. So look up the species, learn what they eat..then find a habitat near you that supports your local species... and wahlah -- you'll probably find squirrels. But don't forget to check at the best time of the day for the season...

What do squirrels eat?

Being rodents, squirrels eat a wide variety of mostly vegetarian foods -- but some add a few insects or small animals as well. Here is a general list of what squirrels eat -- but each species has its favorite menu.

In their natural habitats tree squirrels eat a variety of foods including fungi, insects, bird eggs and young birds, pine nuts, and acorns, plus a wide variety of other seeds, nuts, dried corn, fruits, twigs, buds, bark, leaves, pine cones, roots, and mushrooms. And on occasion -- almonds, English and black walnuts, oranges, avocados, apples, apricots, and a variety of other plants. During ground foraging they may feed on strawberries, tomatoes, corn, and other crops. And don't forget dog food, table scraps and whatever else smells good!

It's fun to keep a journal of all the different kinds of foods your neighborhood squirrels eat. Very enlightening!

How long do squirrels live?

The average life span for a squirrel in the wild is 3-5 years. Their main predators are hawks, owls, cats, and predators of baby squirrels can include snakes, crows and other squirrels.

Squirrels' Neighbors

Squirrels live in neighborhoods filled with a wide variety of other animals...and work together, play together, and even ignore one another! Some of their closest neighbors are birds...and you can learn about specific birds that also love trees and the same habitats that squirrels like here...

For more articles about BIRDS, BIRDS, BIRDS!

Bird Profiles for Young Natguralists
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red Breasted Nuthatch
Carolina House Wren
White Breasted Nuthatch
Tufted Titmouse
Prothonotary Warbler
Hairy Woodpecker
Eastern Bluebirds
Downey Woodpecker
Purple Martin