I guess it’s about time to do another update on my Red Squirrels. I, of course, say “my” squirrels with the full knowledge that they are the actual owners of the yard and that my wife and I are the lowly residents within their space. In the season following their destruction of my riding mower and trashing my shed, they have dedicated themselves towards the filling of every available container or hollow space with old walnut shells. They raised a disgustingly adorable crop of baby Reds in the front yard tree and now the place is brimming with semi-well behaved squirrels.
So as not to completely deny their mischievous nature, a few of them have taken upon themselves to repeatedly bite into the plastic table covering on our small outside setting (leaving dozens of paired rips). I have no doubt that they will eventually shred this thing, but for now – and I mean the immediate now of late August and the early fall season – they are totally, absolutely, un-erringly occupied by the walnut crop. The table cloth and the mower can wait for another time.
There is a bounteous crop of walnuts hanging from the yard trees this season and the Reds are determined to harvest and consume every single one. Since Red Squirrels are passionate about everything it is needless to say that they are passionate about this particular mission. These bi-colored dynamos eat all manner of food – both animal and vegetable (they do not actually eat plastic table cloths or lawn mower wiring). When conifers are available, pine and spruce cones are targeted. Mushrooms are always on the list, whenever and wherever found, and are harvested at every opportunity. Evidence recovered from around the yard revealed a few fragments of torn mushroom caps. I caught one of the younger ones nibbling on just such a fungal favorite (see below) the other day. But the stains around his little lips, as well as the abundant presence of gnawed shells scattered about, betray the species-defining love of walnuts.
Black Walnuts are covered with thick florescent green husks this time of year. The husk covering enlarges the diameter of some of the nut packages to something just shy of tennis ball size. The Reds spend a great deal of time cutting the nuts free from their lofty origins (see above) and watch them crash through the foliage down to the ground. The next step involves collecting these earthbound tennis balls and running to one of two favorite dining trees. Some nuts are stored under the hood of my mower or eaten outright, but most are placed in temporary storage.
The sight of a tiny Red Squirrel bounding across the lawn with a tennis ball – something larger than its head – is a ridiculous scene. Looking more like a cat toy, they are pulled to the intended location as if a magnet were implanted in the nut and the tree was metallic. Several of the lower horizontal branches on my Red Maples have odd scabby growths shaped very much like small wooden bowls. The squirrels use these as short-term nut holders. On any given day every available nut bowl contains a squirrel harvested nut.
One branch has several of these depressions in a row and, when fully loaded, looks as if one of the squirrels has arranged for a breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack nut.
After a prolonged session of nut harvesting, the Reds begin to chow down. Piece by piece they remove the husk and proceed to gnaw deeply into the nut (from two sides) to extract the meat. As most folks know, the green husk flesh quickly turns brown upon exposure to air and it will stain everything it touches. Every single Red Squirrel in my…er, their yard… is marked with a dark brown mouth ring. Like face paint on a stadium football fan this is the mark of a real nut!