Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

November 8, 2008

Barking Up the Right Tree

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 12:52 pm

   There is no better time in the Naturespeak cycle to talk Squirreltalk than Autumntime. One could go nuts on the subject because squirrels tend to be a very chatty group of mammals.  They have the audacity to tell us humans exactly what they think, so getting them to speak into a microphone is not terribly difficult.  Porcupines and skunks turn their back on you, shrews are ultrasonic speakers, and muskrats, well, they don’t say much of anything in public or private.  Deer blow air out their noses and stomp their feet like frustrated children because they really don’t know what to say.

  Squirrels bark. They bark out warning, they bark out danger, they bark out love between their brothers and their sisters all over the land. If they had a hammer, they’d do the same. They don’t have hammers, so they do it with their ample vocal chords instead. Squirrels come in many different sizes and types and they bark out their warnings with varying different pitches and tempos determined by body size. Allow me to introduce you to the Fox, Gray, Red, and Eastern Chipmunk, the four most common local squirrels, and you’ll see what I mean.

  All of this barking and carrying on is accompanied by an impressive range of tail motions. Often the tail follows the exact beat of the bark, but we’ll cover this at some other time.  The tree squirrels- the Red, Gray and Fox-usually assume a calling position which places them upside down on a tree trunk. Chipmunks perch up on a log and a take on a noble stallion position (one front leg up).

  Fox Squirrels (see above) are the largest and most common members of the group. These yellow-brown creatures are adapted to life in the patchy woodlots found in suburban landscapes and rolling farm country. Like grumbling old uncles, they have the lowest and most guttural voice in the family (Fox Squirrel Call). As a rule they are the least talkative, however, and prefer to duck quietly behind a tree trunk as opposed to noisily confronting the subject of their angst.

  Gray Squirrels (see here) are smaller than Fox Squirrels; 12-24 oz. vs. their 28-40 oz. cousins, but Grays are much more opinionated and tend more toward vocal confrontation than timidity. Mature trees and big timber are the usual haunts for this squirrel. Gifted with a wide variety of calls, their bark ranges from a chucking sound to an outright scream. One individual chewed me out while walking in the Berkshires of Massachusetts this past September (Gray Squirrel Call). This squirrel has a slightly higher tone than the Fox and has the tendency to lapse more into the prolonged, and slightly creepy, “uuuuuuugh” bark.

  True to their name, Red Squirrels (seen here in a typical barking pose) are indeed reddish. This trait, combined with their white bellies and small size (5-9 oz.), makes them easy to identify. They are also loquacious to the extreme. Whereas the Fox Squirrel is the grumbling uncle and the Gray Squirrel the opinionated brother-in-law, the Red is the shrill aunt.  At least five different kinds of calls have been recorded for these hyper little beasts. Here is one of my yard squirrels recorded in full complaint mode (Red Squirrel Call). Because the creature is so small, their bark is more like a Chihuahua chirp.

  If there is any member of the squirrel family that really needs no introduction, it is the Eastern Chipmunk (see here). It is the smallest of our four subjects (only 2-4 oz. when soaking wet) and the one with the highest voice (Chipmunk Call).  A chipping Chipmunk can keep up this banter at the rate of 100 calls per minute for as long as 1/2 hour, according to Baker’s Mammals of Michigan book.  Although I find this call comforting when doled out to the ear in small doses, like that of all the squirrel calls, it can get very annoying. We can only thank God that chipmunks don’t have hammers and that they retire to winter dens during the cold season!

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress