On the weekends, my father would wake up before everyone in the house, put a cup of coffee on, and sit at the kitchen widow as the sun emerged slowly over the horizon. It was a time for quiet; it was often the only time of silence he would get all day. He enjoyed these moments as it gave him to to reflect, focus, and prepare for the day. As he gazed over the backyard, he would comment on the colors of the finches and the songs of the chickadees (chick-a-dee-dee-dee). He would often count the number of squirrels at the bird feeders, joking that we should change the name to "squirrel feeders" as we seemed to be supplementing their diet on masse.
He loved watching the squirrels most of all. Their chittering arguments with the jays, and also with each other, emphasized and punctuated by the animated swishing of their tails, are the best free entertainment around.
Yet, they are more than furry jesters. Squirrels have their place in both urban and rural habitats all across the world. Our ecosystems would look entirely different with our friend, the squirrel. Let's count the ways:
Squirrels spend a large amount of their day just hunting and catching seeds and nuts from all over. It's like their rai·son d'ê·tre. To put it simply. They just LOVE nuts. They'll find the nuts and seeds, bury them, dig them up, rebury them, and do this on repeat all day.
One reason they do this is to keep other squirrels off their trail. It's estimated that up to 25% of each squirrels stash is looted by other squirrel bandits. In an effort to protect their nutty goodness they'll practice something called "deceptive caching." To throw the robbers off, they pretend to bury a tidbit by digging a hole and covering it up, though not actually placing the nut in. Then they'll run off and really stash their nuts somewhere else.
However, they're just like us. They'll forget where they buried their treasure trove. And we all know what happens to seeds when they're buried, right? Correct! They grow! They become new trees and plants, and in this way, squirrels help disperse the seeds across their forest and parks.
Not only are they distributors of seeds and nuts, they have also, unfortunately, another way to help diversity in their ecosystems. They are some good eatin' and being something supper is an important role in the food chain. Other animals in the forest go out of their way to make squirrel their dinner, such as owls, snakes, coyotes, foxes, eagles, and even raccoons. It's a rough world, but with more variety in food sources for predators, a more diverse ecosystem can exist, helping to create a truly sustainable habitat.
They're Really Really Funny
I mean, let's face it. Squirrels are top notch entertainment. Just watch!