Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sugaring Squirrels



The squirrels around the museum and cottage are an endless source of amusement and/or aggravation (it depends on what they're up to and what day it is). Through the last three years, we've seen the squirrel population double year after year after year. This winter we have seen as many as 8 grey squirrels and 4 red squirrels in the yard or under the feeders.


As their numbers have increased, so too have our observations of their sometimes unique and odd behavior. We observed the red's intolerance of greys present at the feeders, until the ratio reaches about 4 greys to 1 red. At that point, the fiesty red squirrel gives up.


I've seen these guys methodically sort their way through the variety of mixed seed spread all over the ground, picking out their favorite (sunflower seeds) and then going back over the area to devour the cracked corn.


I even watched one individual grey squirrel mark his territory right on top of one of the bird feeders, apparently in an effort to claim that one all to himself.


This is all in addition to the typical squirrelly behavior that involves attempting to climb onto, jump onto, or launch themselves onto any one of the bird feeders that lay just out of their reach.


One of the most interesting things we've noticed of late is the squirrel's version of maple sugaring. At this time of the year, a number of the smaller sugar maples ooze and leak their clear, sugary sap. On warm days, the trunk and branches of these trees look as though they're soaked from a recent rain storm.

Upon close inspection of the trees, we see how they have come to leak so much of their sap. The squirrels have been scoring the bark of the small maples and branches of the larger ones.
On warm days, these wounds drip constantly. The squirrels have been visiting them at different times during the day, licking up the sweet sap. On the days when the sap isn't flowing, the squirrels continue to visit, presumably licking up any residual sugar left on the sap and continuing to score the bark of these trees. I'm sure the maple sap is a sweet treat for the squirrels, just as the boiled down sap (aka maple syrup) is a sweet treat for us.


If you have squirrels and sugar maples around your home, watch for signs of the squirrels indulging their sweet tooth.


-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

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