[Tweeters] RE: Doug squirrel caching

johntubbs at comcast.net johntubbs at comcast.net
Fri Dec 19 00:31:56 PST 2008

Hi Angela and Rob (and Tweets),

Here is another recent story regarding birds and a squirrel. Our backyard (equipped with both seed and suet feeders) attracts a good variety of birds (67 species so far in 2008, 77 life list). Up until a couple of weeks ago, due to the general lack of many large trees in backyards along our street (we have three Doug Firs and our neighbor has four, all medium size), we had been blessedly free of squirrels. Douglas Squirrels, of course, would be welcome as a native species but we're clearly not their type of habitat, so I figured any squirrels we would get would be invasive eastern gray squirrels - not as welcome. Well, sure enough an eastern gray showed up a couple of weeks ago and was obviously felt like he had won the lottery, as he plundered suet and seed and took on a distinctly plump physique, while scaring off my feeder birds in the process. This particular squirrel was unique and distinctive - easily recognized due to a healed scar just above his nose, which I th!
was probably from him getting snapped by someone's mouse or rat trap when he tried to snack on the bait.

After said squirrel proceeded to take up residence in my Northern Flicker box hung on one of the firs, I decided it was time to take definitive action. Being a softie at heart, I opted for the good old standard live-trap-and-relocate routine. Out went the Havahart trap, baited with peanuts and after the squirrel sprung the trap but wasn't caught on day one, I came home on day two and had successfully captured my nemesis squirrel. He was very unhappy, but not harmed, and settled down when I put a plastic bag around the trap and loaded him into the car to take him to the drop site. I had selected a place that wasn't Douglas squirrel habitat to hopefully avoid any competition with a native species, and released him. He set a land speed record scooting away from me when I opened the trap. Since the release site was a full two miles away as the crow flies, I figured I had seen the last of the squirrel.

Which was the case...for all of about four or five days. I looked outside on that fateful day and saw an eastern gray which looked familiarly fat helping himself to ground-scattered seed I put out for juncos and sparrows. I figured it surely had to be a different individual until I put the binocs on him and there was the telltale nose scar. Scarface is back...sigh.

Although I find him annoying, I have to admit a newfound admiration for his cross-country navigational abilities and tenacity in re-claiming his old territory. Most of my feeders are squirrel-proof, but I really would like to raise Flickers in the nest box, rather than more non-native squirrels, so I'm torn about what to do about him - annoyed tolerance or more forceful solutions. The scientist in me smells an anecdoctal study here - how far away can a gray squirrel be relocated and still find and return to a preferred site? Since he's recognizable as an individual, I'll know if he comes back, so maybe I'll start increasing the distance to the release sites after trapping him and see how long he continues to repeat the homing pigeon act. I'm certainly wondering what senses and orienting mechanisms were used to re-find our yard in a relatively short time. Of course, further experiments rely on coaxing him back into the trap, and he may just thumb his nose at me and my si!
lly tra
p next time...!

John Tubbs
Snoqualmie, WA
johntubbs at comcast.net

-------------- Original message --------------
From: "Angela Percival" <angela at stillwatersci.com>

> Rob, you always see the coolest things!

> You know, I have an older female Doug squirrel at my house that I can

> recognize by her short tail, and that has been here at least three

> summers. (Last year I think she raised three litters with the help of my

> sunflower seeds!) About twice a year, during a very restricted period of

> time, she takes sunflower seeds from the feeder on my porch just a short

> distance to a large raised bed in front of the porch. She always does it

> one seed at a time. The holes are usually about as deep as allows her

> little back feet to stay up top. Once she is done, she carefully pats it

> all back nicely. And then, since one of these periods is in the spring,

> they sprout up like a weird mass of green tentacles. She never actually

> seems successful at caching since they always sprout, but she repeats

> the same behavior each year. I have wondered why they only carry one

> seed at a time too. I have not seen my yard Steller's jays try to raid

> these caches--I feel sorry for your squirrel!


> Angela, on a mammal tangent

> Olympia, WA

> Angela at Stillwatersci dot com


> Message: 34

> Date: Thu, 18 Dec 2008 11:36:17 -0800

> From: "Rob Sandelin"

> Subject: [Tweeters] Stellars jay pilfers a squirrel cache

> To: "'tweets'"

> Message-ID:

> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"


> With eight inches of snow today the bird feeder is a happening scene.

> As I

> refilled the feeder I dumped a bunch of seed on the ground and a Douglas

> squirrel has spent the morning caching seed. It must be its first winter

> because hops over grabs a sunflower seed and does about 4 hops, which

> covers

> maybe 4 feet, then it tucks the seed into the hole in the snow. Over and

> over again it bounces back and forth, industriously caching food. A

> Steller's Jay sits on a nearby branch watching the whole show and after

> several minutes of contemplation it joins the fray, swooping down with a

> flourish of wings. The squirrel dashes for cover and the jay leisurely

> strolls over to the seed cache, and in a few minutes gobbles up the

> squirrels work, much to the consternation of the worker who sits on a

> low

> branches yelling out insults at the thief.


> The jay departs and the squirrel goes back to work only to have the

> whole

> thing repeated about 15 minutes later. I am now wondering if this will

> go

> on all day or will the squirrel eventually wise up? A great study

> project

> out the window on a snowy day.


> Rob Sandelin

> Naturalist, Writer, Teacher

> Snohomish County, WA

> NW natural history at:

> http://share3.esd105.wednet.edu/rsandelin/NWnature/NWNature.htm

> AM

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