I've decided that I need to get over my anthropomorphic disdain of Grey Squirrels and enjoy observing them now that I've got them visiting our bird feeders every day. It's a big shift in attitude for me, but I might as well make the best of it.
The Eastern Grey Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis, is a cute, agile, bold little creature (oops, there I go being anthropomorphic again). After a blog reader pointed out that they do not hibernate over the winter I started reading about them, a first step toward getting over my negative bias. They are remarkable animals in many ways.
I commonly see two of them, but not often posing together for a photo. But any animals that keep coming out to eat in the frigid temperatures we've been enjoying have to be well adapted survivors! A lot of other animals do just escape winter by hibernating.
The Eastern Grey Squirrel is native to eastern North America, so it does belong here. I think a large part of my bias against it comes from reading about how it has largely displaced the smaller European Red Squirrel after being introduced in England over 100 years ago. It's considered a serious invasive species there, as well as in British Columbia following introduction there.
I included this photo because it's one of my only photos that shows the tiny sharp claws on the front feet. The Grey Squirrel lives a largely arboreal life, travelling up and down and through trees, making remarkable jumps with agility. It can turn its back feet around to hold on with those claws, which make it one of the only animals that can go down a tree headfirst.
They can live in hollow trees or in large leaf nests known as 'dreys'. I suspect this is the home of my two Grey Squirrels, a large nest in a neighbouring ash tree. It will be lined with finer plant material inside to provide a secure home.
As it is, the squirrel feeds on the ground beneath the bird feeders, but dashes for the nearest tree trunk at signs of danger. That's a garden sculpture it's hiding behind.
Then it comes back to the ground, but looks around before leaping the 4 feet to the sunflower seed. If I'm going to really observe these animals, I'm going to have to change my style. Usually I just notice the birds or squirrels out the window, and stop to take a few pictures. But I think I'm going to have to actually sit and observe to learn much. I haven't yet seen them travel between that big drey next door and our bird feeders for example. And I wish I could find a way to tell the two squirrels apart.
But today it did something unexpected, it ran the longer way across the snow and up into a different tree, then disappeared to the east. Those white lines across the squirrel are snow blowing horizontally through the yard. By the way, the black squirrels we often see, especially in urban populations, are simply a colour phase of the Eastern Grey Squirrel, not a separate species.
I think it could be fun to watch these well-adapted animals; maybe I`ll learn something. It reminds me of a 2nd year Zoology course I took at university. The professor and his graduate students had banded squirrels in forested areas on the edge of campus with coloured leg bands, so you could tell individual squirrels apart. We had to go squirrel-watching and write a report. I enjoyed that assignment (anything to get out of the classroom). So here in our backyard I`ll repeat my squirrel observing, some nearly 50 years later!