Thursday, January 7, 2010

Red Squirrels

Nature Watch
By Susan Benson,
CNHM Director of Education

Last week’s observation of two squirrels chasing each other around the tree brought back funny memories of my interactions with this animal. For years I had appreciated these small red critters as they scolded me with their “chuck, chuck” sounds while waving their tail and stomping their feet at me. This appreciation changed a bit when one day, while napping on my couch, I heard a noise in the kitchen. I looked with surprise, and there, on top of my refrigerator, was a red squirrel. That scolding sound took on a new meaning to me as I spent the next half hour trying to encourage this squirrel to leave the house. After a lengthy search, I still could not figure out how this squirrel found entrance to my home. The next day when I returned home from the Museum, I noticed the artwork on the walls all cockeyed – that squirrel had enjoyed another day while I was hard at work, “playing” inside my house. A few days later, I discovered the toilet paper had been unrolled and pulled all over the house by this mischievous squirrel. Its playful antics ended when I discovered its entrance through the dryer vent (clever, aren’t they?) Now I consider myself fortunate to enjoy them outside of the house.

Active mostly at dawn and late afternoon, red squirrels may spend up to eighty percent of their time foraging for food. One of their main food sources is pine seeds. In the fall, “reds” will cut green cones from trees and store them in their piles, or middens, under logs, at the base of trees, or underground. Up to a bushel of food can be stored in one of these piles. They are able to relocate their buried seeds a few inches underground and deep below the snow with their great sense of smell. However, many midden piles are not found, giving red squirrels an important role as a re-forester. Additionally, “reds” may eat up to two-thirds of a pine seed crop in an area each year. They also eat acorns, beechnuts, seeds, berries, birds’ eggs, and fungi. Red squirrels will bite into a sugar maple’s xylem, letting the sap ooze out, to return later when the water has evaporated and the sugar content is higher.

It is around this time of year when breeding for red squirrels begins, which explains the two red squirrels I observed running around the tree for a dizzying amount of time. “Red” makes its nests in a variety of places including hollows in the ground, in tree hollows, logs or crotches in trees.

Boomer, chatterbox, chickaree, and pine squirrel are just some of the names for a red squirrel. Their scientific name is Tamiasciurus hudsonicus. Tamiasciurus is Latin for “the steward who sits in the shadow of his tail,” and hudsonicus relates to Hudson Bay, where this species was first named. It is only the northern two-thirds of Wisconsin that enjoys the “chatter” of this squirrel that prefers coniferous and mixed forests. If you have your own red squirrel story to share, please email the Museum at, or post your own stories on the Nature Watch blog at

For over 40 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and exhibits, the Curiosity Center and Brain Teasers 2, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. Also find us on the web at to learn more about exhibits and programs.

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