Grey Squirrels are a common rodent found throughout Massachusetts. They have adapted very well in the rural-urban gradient: They can be found in the wild, in your backyard, and even in the city park. This makes them a great critter to study if you want to learn more about animal behavior or hone your observational skills.
Squirrels, like all rodents, have one pair of incisors, sharp teeth in the front of their mouth. These teeth are unusual because they continuously grow (up to 6 inches in a year) and therefore squirrels must continually scrape them on hard surfaces to wear them down. They have a large gap between their incisors and molars (chewing teeth).
Grey Squirrels are generalists, rather than specialists. This means they have adapted well to foraging and eating many different kinds of food. As omnivores they will typically choose to eat nuts, berries, buds, shoots, and even mushrooms. They occasionally need other proteins and will eat insects, bird eggs, bird nestlings, and even other small rodents.
During the fall squirrels start to scatter-hoard and bury nuts throughout their range. When doing so, they will bury, rebury, and even pretend to bury nuts in an attempt to evade thieves. Pretending to bury food is known as deceptive caching. Grey Squirrels will deceptively cache nuts in multiple spots before actually burying the nut…. Which they may then rebury later.
Grey Squirrel can bury as many as 10,000 nuts/year, and while their memory and sense of smell help them relocate many of these nuts, they often fail to recover about 25% of them! Some of this loss may be due to thieves, but much of it is due to simple forgetfulness. Through this process, those acorns and other seeds will take root and many become full grown trees. In this way, squirrels are naturals at regenerating forests and spreading the genetic diversity of trees.
Did you know that Grey Squirrel mothers will move their kits from one home to another depending on how many there are, how big they are, and environmental factors such as danger or food shortages? To do this, mothers carry each kit separately through the trees until they reach the new hollow or drey (squirrel nest) they want to use. A squirrel mother will leap from branch to branch with a kit in her mouth, often resting as needed, then go back to move the rest of her family.
What can you do for squirrels?
Squirrels at your bird feeder might need a break! The next time you see a Grey Squirrel stuffing its cheeks, take a minute to observe it. Take note: is it a female, obviously nursing, accompanied by her young, or acting erratic or stressed? Think generously and let her stuff those little cheeks full. She may really need it.
Another option to support squirrels, while still keeping your boundaries, is to provide a platform feeder away from your squirrel-proof bird feeders. On this platform, place quality seeds and other foods squirrels love. This is known as distraction feeding. Rather than eliminate the problem or spend time watching hungry squirrels test the boundaries of your bird feeders, simply provide them with their own feeding area. In theory they will leave your other feeders alone, and you may be delighted to watch them chow down and visit you appropriately.
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Looking for More Resources?
Read Why do Squirrels Chirp? to learn more about squirrel noises and what they mean.
Visit Mass Audubon’s Nature-Wildlife: Squirrels to learn more about this species.
Read more about food caching at Science Sleuths: How Squirrels Hide Nuts.
Watch Outsmarting Squirrels, a short video by Bowdoin Collage that highlights the adaptability of squirrels, and the lengths we may go to to keep them off our feeders.
Watch the Baby Squirrels Nesting video by BBC Earth, narrated by David Attenborough. This short video introduces the timeline for baby squirrels in the nest.
Watch this short video, Fooled by Nature – Squirrel Navigators, from Animal Planet to see examples of food caching and deceptive caching.
Read these fun facts about squirrels.
Why do some squirrels have these ‘bobtails’? This can be caused by a genetic defect, an injury or predation attempt which causes the squirrel to lose it’s tail.
Want More Activities?
Design an Outdoor Scavenger Hunt.
Check out the Mass Audubon Squirrels Activity Page.
Visit Backyard Science with Squirrels to learn more about squirrels, and try some family-friendly experiments in your own backyard.
Citizen Science: Project Squirrel – become a citizen scientist and record your squirrel sightings.
Get outside and try to fill up this Spring Bingo Card.
Try some Games, Experiments, and Crafts focused on squirrels.
Grey Squirrel Song for Preschoolers
What would you like to learn about from your backyard?
Stay tuned for the next Critter Card coming out on Tuesday, April 28th, by email and Facebook.
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Thanks to our Critter Card Fans
I wanted you to know that I look at your emails and get inspiration from them. I actually created a “wild life watch” checklist for all our residents at Havenwood Heritage Heights will get one for walks so hoping this give them a little purpose. Anyway I appreciate your emails and ideas that I get from them! – Havenwood Heritage Heights employee
I want to thank you sooooo much for your nature cards and all the useful URLs. My kids are going to look at the sow bugs next week and all the related activities. The following week-I’d like to focus on the grey squirrel. – parent
I have been compiling lists of things to do online for our Seacoast Village Project seniors. We are offering activities for them and also offer shopping, errands, pick up prescriptions, pet food… anything they need. So, I am going to add your Critter Card postings to the list. They love learning! – Joppa Flats fan