lizbrownlee – poet

Poems, animal info, extraordinary women, my books!

S is for Squirrel

This squirrel image was taken by Tim Green on Flikr:

Squirrel Tim Green

People are divided in opinion about squirrels, particularly grey squirrels.

They are curious, friendly, extremely intelligent, entertaining, and can live in towns and cities and woodlands with equal ease.

They climb. This means there is a downside, sometimes – they can be destructive and chew through things like cables. They need to gnaw to keep their teeth in check, as they grow continuously.

But in the best of circumstances, where there is enough space and food, they are a welcome visitor to the garden for many people.

Some facts about squirrels:

They do eat buds and young leaves of trees – however many trees have defences against squirrels and they seldom actually harm trees in natural surroundings.

In fact, they perform a wonderful service in that they ‘scatter’ hoard – leave nuts buried and hidden all over the forest, so many that they can’t possibly recall where they all are.

In this way they help trees procreate some distance further away than just where the nuts have dropped underneath the parent.

In the US, there are two types of oak tree, red oaks and white oaks.

Richard W. Thorington, Curator of Mammals at Smithsonian University, has studied squirrels. In his books, Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide, and Squirrels of the World, he states some fascinating facts.

He says that because white oak acorns sprout easily and early as soon as they are buried, squirrels have learned to either eat them first and just bury the red nuts, or, and this is really clever, bite through the embryo of the white oak acorns, meaning they can’t sprout. Then they bury them.

Other facts:

They can run as fast as 20mph.

They stop quite still to assess danger before leaping away and off – this means that they often get run over on roads.

Their name comes from a Greek word, skiouros, meaning ‘shadow tail’.

When they live in groups squirrel will warn the others of a perceived danger – they have quite a harsh warning cry that sounds almost like a bird. The one that warns stays until all the others have got to safety.

American grey squirrels were introduced into the UK. Unfortunately they are hardier and more able to withstand periods of food shortage than the indigenous UK red squirrel, and carry a disease that they have some immunity to, but which kills red squirrels almost immediately when they catch it.

Now red squirrels are only present in a few small areas of the UK, Brownsea Island off of Poole in the south, a few small areas of Wales, and a contracting population in Scotland.

Here is a red squirrel taken by Paul Buxton on Flikr – they are ridiculously cute!

Red squirrel paul buxton

There are only 140,000 red squirrels left, compared to an estimated 2.4 million greys.

They live on mainly seeds, from pine cones and things like that, and also fungi – they ‘dry’ fungi by hanging it out over branches to store and eat during the winter.

Here is my squirrel poem:

.

Squirrels

.

Let’s celebrate the squirrels

that perform the twig trapeze,

their tightrope walking artistry,

their acrobatic ease,

fuelled by the forest’s music

of buds and nuts and leaves,

they plant the future woodland –

they are spirits of the trees.

.

Poem © Liz Brownlee

Photos © Tim Green and Paul Buxton.

Information from Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide by Richard W Thorington, Forestry Commision, About Squirrels.com.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.

24 Comments

  1. They are sweet to watch. Unfortunately, they bring tons of fleas when they build their nests. I have a tree guy who won’t trim any tree with a squirrel nest, so guess what? Three trees are now way over-grown. What to do is the question.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Squirrel fleas are more species specific than human or cat or even dog fleas and don’t often bite humans – find another tree surgeon that’s less squeamish would be my advice, you can wear protective clothing and bathe in garlic (they don’t like the smell).

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  2. rosie49

    The red “ginger” squirrel is very, very cute. We have quite a few muscular grey squirrels up in the woods, and they are notorious for eating any and all wild bird seed you might put out. Thanks for reminding me of their good qualities.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We decided in the end to put out a ‘squirrel proof’ feeder (it isn’t, they are too clever) but also a feeder just for them, which has meant the birds are left in peace of the other one!

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  3. I always liked squirrels but it is a shame the cute red one is not doing well. I wonder if they could ever cross-breed? What about cloning?? We owned a sawmill and when I was young my dad came in with 2 baby squirrels that was in one of the logs just brought to us. The mother was not with them. The one little squirrel died but the other thrived and we had the squirrel as a pet for the most part:) We gave it to a place a couple of years later that took in animals that could not be in the wild. My hubby, who is Mr. manly man (doesn’t look it but he is) looked for his coat of arms and found it-On the top was not a lion or ostrich feathers but the mighty squirrel! -lol I died laughing. It means that his name originated with being in the forest or something like that

    Liked by 1 person

    • Red and grey squirrels are different species, so can’t interbreed. What is even more worrying is the mutant grey squirrel that is black – it has more testosterone, is more aggressive, and omnivorous. It does better because of this and is likely to wipe out both grey and red squirrels. In some parts of our country half the squirrels now have the black colouration. They are handsome, though.

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  4. binghamcryst

    I love all your poems, Liz, but “Squirrels” has to be my favourite so far. And thank you for the great name-derivation fact!

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    • Thank you! It is quite interesting, isn’t it!

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  5. I love squirrels whatever their colour, and your poem is very apt. There are quite a few living in the woodlands near home, I often see one or two when I’m walking the dogs. I see them round here sometimes too, they must come across the fields from the woods on the far side.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Eunice, I also love seeing them out on walks, leaping through the branches and scurrying up and down the tree trunks.

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  6. The red squirels have been bullied out of their rightful place by the greys, but I still love to see the grey ones. In Canada squirrels are blac!

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    • They are grey squirrels that have a mutant gene, Lizy, just like the ones here. They are almost prevalent in Canada now. They are better at finding food as more aggressive, and female greys prefer the colour, so pick them in preference.

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  7. My university has four types of squirrels on campus: Grey, white, black, and red. It is a badge of school spirit to see one of each. Also, they have their own Twitter handle… 😀 There is a lot I didn’t know about them in this post, thanks! And fun poem 🙂

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

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    • Thank you and hello! What a lot of types of squirrel! Where do you live?

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  8. We have a MILLION squirrels where we live, small gray ones. I’ve seen them all my life, so when friends come from France and exclaim about them, I don’t get it, until…. I go north! When I see how FAT some of the gray squirrels are in Oregon, that’s when I exclaim! Lisa, co-host AtoZ 2015, @ http://www.lisabuiecollard.com

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I used to see them all the time but I don’t see them around much. When you consider where I live (in the Pacific Northwest) that’s surprising because they have got to be all over here. I think we just tune them out. I’ll have to look for some to point out to my grandson.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are 200 types of squirrel worldwide, so it’s likely that you do have some sort of squirrel where you are!

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  10. Interesting squirrel facts and I really love your poem.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Squirrels chewed their way into my moms attic. Do you know that you are not allowed to use chemical means to rid your home of the unwanted guests. I am generally kind to animals but the expense of having to capture and release in the woods to just have them return is too much.

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    • That must be galling. I wonder if those sound things that you can use to keep mice away would work on squirrels?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. The UK red squirrel sure is cute. We have a different red squirrel in the northeastern part of the U.S. and they can be a real pest, especially if they get into the walls of the house.

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    • So I’m hearing, Virginia! Greys do get into attics here, but they don’t seem to very often. And the reds live in pine forests. They only eat pine nuts and a very specialised diet.

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