The Behaviors of Tree Squirrels

By Dave Hanks

Which is the most important factor in determining an animal’s behavior - instinct or learned actions? This is a question that can’t be answered because they are both important. One thing is certain, however, animals are smarter than we realize! Bird species, like meadowlarks, that have an intricate song must learn it from their parents. Birds with simple songs do not have to be taught. Most human musicians have had long hours of training. A few, though, are naturally gifted and can perform on an instrument at an early age.

Baby ducks incubated by chickens will not scratch and peck like the hen. Their instincts automatically lead them to water to feed on aquatic vegetation. The ability to swim is already imbedded in their genes.

In an experiment with tree squirrels, the subjects were raised in isolation and fed a liquid diet. After maturity, they were given nuts and turned loose. Just like wild squirrels, they carried the nuts and buried them under boulders or at the base of trees. They also tamped down the dirt with their forepaws – exactly as if they had matured in the wild. Obviously they were pre-programmed by their DNA.

The WESTERN GRAY SQUIRREL will bury nuts 3 to 4 inches deep over a scattered pattern. In winter they will dig them up, even if covered with snow. Their memory and keen sense of smell lets them find the stored food supply. Besides nuts (especially acorns), they will eat seeds, fungi, fruits, and insects.

This squirrel is strictly diurnal (daytime active), but active all year long. They nest 20 feet above ground in a nest of sticks, shredded bark, and grass. One liter of 3 to 5 is produced after a 44 day gestation. When mating, this species will bite and injure each other. This stimulates hormone production.

We lure birds in to photograph by feeding them, but squirrels are always a problem by trying to take over our feeding stations. The Gray Squirrel is no exception – but fun to watch.

(Enjoying our bird seed)