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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Ribbons In the Pine

One late January morning during breakfast as I was facing the back window, I noticed what appeared to be long stringing ribbons hanging in the pine tree up high and close to the trunk in a section of thick foliage, but hanging long enough to be swinging in the breeze. There were several of them. I wondered: what in the world is that hanging out of the tree! I watched the curious sight then forgot about it until sometime later when the movement of hanging, swinging “ribbons” caught my attention again. Then I realized what it is... a squirrel’s nest. It is still there.

I have read that squirrels mate and have their first litter in February in a nest they built in a cavity in the trunk of a tree. If a cavity cannot be found, then they build close to the trunk. February seems a cold time to be having those tiny, naked little “pinkies”, as I have heard them called. Brrrr, poor little things! I hope mama stays with them to keep them warm, but she must leave to find water and food for herself sometime!

Later in summertime they have another family in a nest out on a branch where it is cooler and can catch the summer breezes. I have read that the mother may take them back and forth from one nest to the other depending on the weather and temperature.

Their nests are large, bulky, bushy, amusing to see, collections of leaves and whatever else the homebuilder finds attractive and useful. That is what I was seeing up in the tall White Pine tree.

At first I thought the “ribbons” were pieces of old dead strap foliage from daylilies. Later I realized the daylily foliage was already rotted away so it couldn’t be that. Then during a front yard clean up, I discovered long strands of ornamental grass were all over our yard and the two either side of us. The long tan strips were blowing about the neighborhood from the across-the-street neighbors’ large, fairly new landscaping clumps. They were everywhere, and as I picked them up it dawned on me that was what I was seeing hanging up in the pine tree --- the squirrels had found a new building material.

Most of what I know about squirrels I learned while reading, and a little from observation of the resident squirrels in places where we have lived.

Here in the eastern United States we mainly have the cute little gray squirrels Sciurus Carolinensis. I am just guessing, but I suppose they were so named due to their eastern locations in the Carolinas – states: North Carolina and South Carolina, U.S.A.

I read that a black form of this species is seen in the most northern states and Canada. I have seen them in Ontario. Also, albino gray squirrels are not uncommon, especially inside towns where they are safer from predators. I know several have been seen in two towns that are 42 miles apart as the crow flies and located in western Tennessee: Jackson and Rutherford, Tennessee. The Rutherford white squirrels were well known. Then in a few years albinos were noticed in Jackson.

Usually the gray squirrel is predominately gray and in wintertime has cute little buff-colored tufts of fur on the tips of their ears; they remind me of earmuffs. The species is usually mild mannered and are driven out of their territory if the fox squirrels move in.

However, in the British Isles it seems the gray squirrel has somehow arrived there and, sadly, is causing the population of the smaller native red squirrels to decline. I am sorry about that. Too bad they cannot collect all the gray squirrels they have and swap them to us for all the English House Sparrows, House Finches, starlings, grackles, and probably a few other of their native species that are wreaking havoc over here.

During a lovely, relaxing weekend in one of Kentucky’s state resort parks, I especially enjoyed watching the squirrels on their feeders just outside the huge windows of the dining lodge. They were so cute, so full of antics, and put on such a show; I decided we should have such a feeder at home.

A similar feeder was installed here near our kitchen’s back window and stocked with uncrushed, whole grain corn. They, and an enterprising, fat little chipmunk, entertained us greatly. All day everyday they were running up and down that wooden pole putting on a show for us… and burying it all about the place. We had squirrel planted corn coming up everywhere!

Here are a few photos of baby gray squirrels when they are older and have grown their fur coats.

All squirrel photos courtesy of Morguefile.com.


Jean Ann said...

Oh Barbee, I want to love squirrels, I really do...but they are hateful! Just the other day, they dug up some of my potatoes! Jeesh...

Barbee' said...

Yes, they are. And, they tear up wooden birdhouses trying to get to the eggs.

No Rain said...

I seldom see regular squirrels, but we do have ground squirrels (Spermophilus tereticaudus) and more infrequently, black-tailed prairie dogs Cynomys ludovicianus)
Both live underground at night and come out during the day. They are related to the squirrels you have.
Thanks for the info, it's always fun to read about different plants and animals than I normally see.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Barbee'! And how fascinating about the ornamental grass. Here in Pennsylvania, we have grey, red, black, and flying squirrels, though only the grey run through our yard at Hawk's Haven. (Friends have red and flying squirrels not 20 miles away, though.) Black squirrels have a fascinating history--they evolved from grey squirrels in urban areas during Victorian times, when buildings were heated by coal and the outsides were all blackened with soot. The darker the squirrel, the safer it was! Now there are no more black buildings, but black squirrels still linger in some urban areas.

Kathleen said...

Great post Barbee. Lots of good info on squirrels. We have the red fox squirrels in Colorado. I see one around my yard on occasion but not enough to be a nuisance as some of my gardening friends complain about.

Terra Hangen said...

Oh, how darling are the baby squirrels in your photos.
Thanks for leaving a comment at my blog.
I posted a few weeks back about a black squirrel who gardens with me, and who plants peanuts in the shell all over my garden, in the veggie patch and in my container plants too.

ladyluz said...

Hi Barbee, I've been enjoying your dogwood blossom over on your website and I pop over here for a feast for the eyes - squirrels, which we don't have here, plus all the beautiful wild flowers. Lovely, all of it.

Gail said...

Lovely post and the baby squirrels are adorable....makes me forget how much damage they do to newly planted beds!

I am glad to meet you!

clay and limestone

Linda Lunda said...

HI! We have only the red squirrel here in Sweden. I do love this smal animals! They are so lovely and fun to look at.
Thank you for this nice post.

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

Barbee, the squirrels are cute, but man they can make a mess in the garden. The manx are on patrol all the time to keep them out.

Daphne said...

We used to have black squirrels in our yard. They were exactly the same as the grey squirrels. Half were grey half were black. The mix changed from year to year, but we always had both... Until one year. I don't know what happened. All the black squirrels were gone. I was so sad. In this part of the country (Boston suburbs) I had only seen the grey suburban squirrels until I moved to this house. Never a black one. I thought they were special. Now they are all gone. I miss them.

And yes I confess they can be obnoxious. I don't grow tulips or crocuses because the squirrels just watch me plant them and dig them up to eat. Yet they plant the acorns, so I'm constantly pulling up little oak trees everywhere. Too bad its not the other way around. I still like them. I like to watch them in the back yard chasing one another. They act so much like children so I have to laugh.

Barbee' said...

All of your comments from all over the world, nearly, have been so interesting about what you have where you are gardening. Your comments are even more interesting than the post. Thank you for stopping by and taking time to leave your messages.

Anonymous said...

Hi Barbee - to an Aussie, squirrels are an oddity, but from what I've seen on TV, a pesky one. Do you get Chipmunks there in your part of KY?

I loved your May 'flowery' display, but your 'toolbox' doesn't hold much!

Barbee' said...

Hi there Roberto, pleasant surprise to find you here this morning.

Oh, yes, we do have chipmunks and they do as much, or more, damage as the squirrels. They burrow underground, climb trees and eat what's in my hanging baskets. Also, they think this is their turf so they frequently dig up what I have planted just to check it out and see what I was doing. They are cute, but I get exasperated with them.

Do you have them, too?

That tool box is a bit small, isn't it. :) It holds only certain things. The real working tools go with me in a bushel basket to keep them corralled. Still, every year I lose something.

Anonymous said...

Hi Barbee - yes, sometimes I do stay up late (early, your time).

No squirrels - ground or otherwise, in OZ. We do have Possums and a whole lot of native marsupials, but I suppose, being an island, we were saved from a lot of pesky 'varmints'. It's strange, though, as they are in Asia (esp. Thailand). I didn't realise they were all of the one family, different species.

Hope you had a good day yesterday, and didn't work too hard. Cheers.

Esther Montgomery said...

Although there are huge programmes in some areas of Britain to protect native red squirrels before they become extinct, the greys are still well loved.

However (or also!) - (depending too on what you enjoy reading) - you might be interested in a fiction trilogy (The Dorset Squirrels) by Michael Todd. It begins with a book called 'The Silver Tide' . . .

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I heard of Black Squirrels in Britain.

Now, in areas where they have established themselves, they are beginning to push out the greys, just as the greys earlier pushed out the reds.

It's a veritable drama!