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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Sep 14, 2021

Advice from Garden Club R.F.D. – Do You Have a Problem with Squirrels?

Are your resident squirrels Olympic jumpers? Do they reach your bird feeders regardless of what you do? Have you set up a “squirrel-proof” bird feeder only to have squirrels appear right behind your cardinals, blue jays or finches, doubling their efforts to reach the bird seed and scaring away the birds?

Robert McCleery, an associate professor and researcher of squirrel ecology at the University of Florida, tells us that this often-labeled nuisance animal has much to offer. He has said that “squirrels are some of the most visible wildlife in suburban settings” and “a vital part of the ecosystems they inhabit.”  So, let’s explore this animal a bit more.

Squirrels are nimble, bushy-tailed rodents found all over the world except Australia and the Antarctic, according to the BBC. They belong to the Sciuridae family, which includes prairie dogs, chipmunks and marmots – and a group of squirrels is labeled a scurry or dray. 

Gray squirrels, most commonly found in our area, grow to 15 to 20 inches with their tails adding an extra 6 to 9 inches. Gray squirrels tend to inhabit more extensive hardwood forest areas with more undergrowth. They reproduce twice a year, in spring and late summer, and usually have a litter size of three. 

Many people think they only eat nuts, but squirrels are omnivores, which means they like to eat plants and meat. While most squirrels do eat fungi, seeds, nuts and fruits, several types of squirrels will also munch on eggs, small insects, caterpillars, small animals and even young snakes. They constantly chew on things. This is because they have incisors that are always growing. “If they don’t chew on something, their teeth are going to grow into their lower jaw and skull,” McCleery said.

In forest ecosystems, McCleery said squirrels are nature’s gardeners. They take seeds and bury them throughout the environment, and then when they go back to find them, they have forgotten where they are. “When this happens, they are effectively planting seeds,” said McCleery.

If you see a squirrel rubbing its face on an acorn, that’s their way of marking the seed with its scent, giving a squirrel a better chance of finding it again.

If you see one squirrel pursuing another, that’s usually a mating chase.

If you ever see a squirrel rapidly flicking its tail over its head and possibly making a rolling chirping noise, it may be telling you to back off. If you are near a food source or a tree they use, you may be perceived as a predator.

According to the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web, a female squirrel can have a gestation period of 29 to 65 days, depending on the size of the type of squirrel. Babies are called kits or kittens and are born blind. They depend on their mothers for two or three months. When kits leave the nest, they don’t travel farther than two miles from home, according to the Massachusetts Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

These creatures have remarkable little bodies. For example, a squirrel has padded feet that cushion their jumps of up to 20 feet long. Now you know how they do it! Their eyes are high on their head and placed on each side, so that they can see a large amount of their surroundings without turning. They are also fantastic runners, able to move 20 miles per hour. All types also have tremendous agility, in part because they can rotate their hind feet 180 degrees when descending a tree or pole. 

Okay, so now with all this information under your belt, how do you manage that cute squirrel? Well, if you set up a feeding station just for the squirrels, stock it with cracked corn or peanuts in the shell. If you keep a good baffle on your bird feeders and no baffle on these designated squirrel feeders, you can usually have much less of a problem. However, you do use more food!

So, admire them or hate them, the most we seem to be able to do is slow them down a bit.  Please don’t use any strategies that can harm or kill them. It is recommended that you try to appreciate squirrels as a part of nature and remember that they are just trying to survive in the wild like any other animal.

Garden Club R.F.D. is a member of the Garden Club of New Jersey, the Central Atlantic Region of State Garden Clubs, Inc., and the National Garden Clubs, Inc. Meetings are held at the Little Red Schoolhouse on Middletown Lincroft Road in Middletown. For more information about joining our group, contact Ruth Korn at ruthkorn77@gmail.com. Also, visit the Facebook page for Garden Club R.F.D. to learn more about what surrounds you and advice for your gardens.