By Sally Griffith
It seems we have acquired a friend or perhaps a stalker. The window outside our kitchen has several large trees in close proximity. My husband often eats his quick breakfast over the sink in front of the kitchen window. There is one branch that dips right in front of the window and our new friend has taking to eating his meals from that branch while my husband is eating his. We have taken to calling him “Hammy” after the character in the movie, “Over the Hedge.”
That is the friend part.
The stalker part comes in when, after greeting Hammy and getting a cup of chai, I returned to my office. Suddenly the skylight over my desk had a shadow come over it. I looked up and didn’t see anything. Suddenly, I heard the scampering of little feet and the shadow returned, I looked up and was being waved at by Hammy. Since then, he has taken to having breakfast with my husband and various breaks with me.
In case you can’t guess, my friend/stalker is the rusty red fox squirrel, the most common tree squirrel in our area.
Fox squirrels are not native to Colorado, but there are two native tree squirrels: the Abert and Pine squirrels. These two squirrels live in the mountainous part of the state, leaving the fox squirrel to inhabit the Denver metro area. These squirrels are active year-round, gathering up food, robbing bird feeders, and making nests that are difficult to distinguish from bird nests.
Evidently the area outside our kitchen is a safe area with proximity to the neighbors’ bird feeders. A sprinkler system supplies necessary water. A quick jump can take him to our roof and skylight and, also, provide quick access to the back of our house and more trees. It is an easy jump for Hammy because stalkers of his kind can jump up to six feet vertically, eight feet between branches and more than 20 feet in free-fall with soft landings on a limb or trunk.
Fox squirrels have excellent vision and well-developed senses of hearing and smell. (I hope Hammy found my office by hearing, not smell!) They have several sets of hair or whiskers that they use to touch and sense their environment. These are located above and below their eyes, on their chin and nose and on each forearm. They are most active during the day, are non-territorial and spend more time on the ground than other tree squirrels. They are, however, agile climbers and jumpers. They have a large vocabulary and they warn the listening world of approaching threats with distress screams. They can be quite loud when they get together in the spring and fall and combine their efforts to make a small ruckus.
They construct two types of homes, called dreys, depending on the season. Summer dreys are often little more than platforms of sticks high in trees. Winter dens are usually hollowed-out tree trunks. Multiple generations over as many as 30 years may use these winter dreys.
These tree cavities work well as nurseries if there are winter litters. They normally produce two litters a year, usually in March and July. At birth, the young are blind, without fur and helpless. Eyes open in four to five weeks and ears open in six. Juveniles usually disperse in the fall, but may den together or with their mother during their first winter. Their life expectancy is almost 13 years for females and almost 9 years for males.
Relatively few natural predators can capture adult squirrels on a regular basis. But raptors, foxes, cats and dogs will take advantage of an easy opportunity to capture fox squirrels, if one presents itself. We saw a falcon in Minnesota take out a squirrel occupied with fighting other squirrels while raiding a bird feeder. The falcon had difficulty lifting its prey off the ground and his buddies were so petrified that they were stuck running in place until the falcon finally lifted his catch and took it elsewhere. Raccoons and snakes will go after nestlings if they can.
Fox squirrels’ favorite foods are acorns and nuts, food high in fat and not inclined to spoil easily. They can consume up to 1-1/2 pounds of seeds and nuts each week. But their food habits may vary depending on where they are located. In addition to nuts, they will eat tree buds, insects, tubers, bulbs, roots, bird eggs, fungi, and pine and fruit tree seeds. They often bury their food for later consumption and will favor foods that don’t spoil easily.
Of course, if given the opportunity, they will avail themselves of garden crops, bird feeders and anything else presented for them by humans. They must have water at least twice a day. Hammy brings many interesting things to eat while at our kitchen window and many come directly from human sources. However, some may not be food, but hard materials that he gnaws on to wear down his incisors that grow almost six inches per year. I don’t know what he brings for breaks on the skylight above my office, since, after checking that I am working, he usually eats on one side or the other of the rounded skylight.
After hearing Hammy on our roof, I know that he can be quite loud for someone that weighs less than two pounds. I have heard from those unlucky to have a squirrel invade their attic that this is a most unpleasant experience. They can be live-trapped using peanut butter as a lure. But they often become wary of these traps and have been known to find ways to retrieve the peanut butter without setting off the trap. To coexist with squirrels, you may want to do the following:
- Prevent them from climbing trees by placing 18-inch metal cylinders on tree trunks.
- Trim branches hanging over the roof to prevent them from accessing attics.
- Seal small holes under eaves and along roof lines.
- Screen attic vents on the inside with hardware cloth to keep squirrels out.
- Eliminate easy food sources like bird feeders.
- So far, our attic has stayed sealed from Hammy and his friends. So, I guess for now we will keep eating our meals in conjunction with our friend/stalker or, maybe, outside pet.