Eastern Gray Squirrel
Location: Squam Lake, New Hampshire
The leaves may drop from the trees but the forest is far from asleep before the heavy snows come. One creature in particular, the Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), scurries tirelessly here and there, filling its cheeks with nuts. While hiking in the woods near Squam Lake, I saw one busy gray squirrel racing across a fallen log, up a tree, then back down the tree, back across the log and onto the forest floor where his jackpot lay. Upon closer inspection, I noticed a trail of acorn hulls across his log bridge. Like a kid in a blueberry patch assigned by his mother to pick a bucket of berries but only getting half of them into the bucket, Master Squirrel seemed to be getting only half of the acorns to his larder.
Though owners of bird feeders wage war on gray squirrels, in the wild, I find them rather cute and entertaining with their large bushy tails and curious dark eyes. They seem to float across the forest canopy and the jumbled forest floor. In constant motion, most squirrels never stray more than 200 feet from their nest on a given day, though they may range up to 25 acres in a declining hardwood habitat.
A squirrel will eat fruit, buds, flowers, mushrooms, insects and bird eggs when nuts are not available, but the mast crop is the key to a squirrel’s survival. They gather nuts in the fall and bury them about an inch into the ground. A keen sense of smell helps them relocate their subterranean stashes as well as those of other squirrels. And the nuts that never get found? They grow into new trees that make more nuts.