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Where the squirrels live

Shot with a 200mm lens from an upstairs window. Click here for high-resolution version.

From my upstairs office window, during the winter, I can see deep into the woods, up to the top of the next ridge, and down to the little rocky stream below the house. I also can watch the squirrels going about their business in the trees. I have a pretty good view of two squirrel nests, though binoculars would be needed for proper squirrel-watching.

Of all the creatures in the woods, squirrels have the best — and I suspect the safest — homes. They have to worry about hawks and owls from above, and foxes and coyotes from below, but my guess is that squirrels are caught less often than animals such as rabbits that can’t climb trees.

For many animals in these latitudes (including squirrels, I suspect), the best habitat is to be found where forest comes up against meadow. In a forest, the canopy catches most of the sun. But in a meadow, the sun reaches the ground, and all the growth is different. At the borders of woods and meadows, wildlife gets the benefits of both worlds.

As much as I hate seeing woods cut down for timber, I have to admit, having watched such areas begin to recover, that after the shock of the loss of woodland habitat, many species benefit as low-growing plants take over. Deer and rabbits love it. It’s also how humans managed to subsist when they first started living in the Appalachian forests. They would cut, or burn, a hole in the forest. For subsistence, they required both kinds of terrain — woodland and farmable meadow. When a natural event such as a fire clears an opening inside a healthy forest, that opening becomes a kind of oasis. Even if one big tree falls, and sunlight suddenly reaches the ground, all sorts of growing things take advantage of the opportunities.

I like reflecting on this, because I think it shows that rural living is sustainable — farmland alternating with woods. A recent Gallup poll found that most Americans would prefer rural living to a city, a suburb, or a small town. Rural living, I believe, is a privilege, because it’s not an option available to most people, given the kind of economy we have today.

In the photo below, one of my squirrel neighbors is working the yard for food. I’m not sure what. Skunks, raccoons, moles, and birds mine the yard for grubs, especially during the winter. But as far as I know, squirrels don’t eat grubs.

Speaking of moles, most people regard them as pests. I find them to be very beneficial. In mining for grubs, they do a beautiful job of aerating the soil. Grass flourishes in areas that the moles have cultivated.

One Comment

  1. Jo wrote:

    I enjoy watching squirrels too. They are such agile creatures. Must confess to having been vexed with them at times raiding the bird feeders. I seriously doubt there is such a thing as a “squirrel-proof” feeder. Of course, the squirrels have to eat too. Partially solved the problem with dried ears of corn, but then squirrels had to compete with deer.

    Sunday, January 6, 2019 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

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