In the cold days of January, you’ll find Trees Forever Executive Coordinator Nancy Beadle peeking out the window. With tea in hand, she’ll watch the squirrels steal food from her bird feeder.
“Sometimes I’m not sure if they’re fighting, playing or taunting me. Even if I set food out for them, they seem to like the challenge of breaking into the bird feeder,” Beadle laughs.
While Beadle focuses mostly on grants and proposals at Trees Forever, some people in the office have labeled her as the “squirrel person.”
“I prefer ‘squirrel appreciator’ or ‘interested observer.’ I’m no expert, but I can appreciate what squirrels do for forests and savannas,” Beadle said. “Oak trees drop acorns, but how can those acorns move away from the tree? Squirrels! Gray squirrels are known as ‘scatter hoarders.’ They store their nuts in various locations farther way from the original oak tree. A few of those acorns aren’t eaten and grow into majestic oaks.”
Squirrels need acorns to survive, and a casual observer may find it surprising that the oak population is actually just as dependent on the squirrel population. While squirrels are not the only animal to eat acorns, they have a special relationship with the oaks. According to Master Gardner Sue Sweeney’s research, squirrel populations actually rise and fall with oak populations. The same trend is not found with deer, jays, chipmunks and other critters who also enjoy the tasty nut.
Some squirrel experts, like Dr. John Gurnell of squirrelweb, even go as far as attributing the squirrel population for replanting the oak forests after the last Ice Age.
As for the ecosystem in your backyard, a healthy population is a sign of a healthy ecosystem.
“I understand how they can be destructive, but I think they really brighten up the winter with their fluffy brown tails.” Beadle said. “They’re just fun to watch.”
Just a few thoughts to keep in mind as we approach Squirrel Appreciation Day on January 21.