Just like the autumn leaves, don’t touch them: they’re a precious and very important source of food for a cute companion in the garden: the red squirrel.
Fortunately for you, the two are very similar, both in lifestyle and diet. So for today’s article, I’ll just refer to both rodents as red squirrels.
By the way, I don’t know about you, but between the hairy ears of the Europeans (we’re still talking about squirrels here!), and the white eyebrows of the Americans (squirrels, still!), I can’t decide which one is more adorable… What do you think?
This cute little mammal usually lives in evergreen forests, where it feeds on mushrooms, pine nuts, walnuts, or other trees. They can sometimes be seen in cities, suburbs or in the country, wandering on our land. They aren’t harmful to our garden, and watching them is a real pleasure since they aren’t shy, they’re active during the day, and their antics worthy of the best trapeze artist.
Collection of Cones, Seeds, and Dried Chanterelle
While the European species can find food all year-round or almost all year-round, its Canadian cousin faces a serious threat: at 40 below in winter, mushroom hunting is out of the question!
I heard your shriek, my dear European friends. Yes, even if it’s not so cold every day, it happens that a week or two of extreme cold falls upon our continent! And then, just like us, who continue to go to work and do our shopping, the red squirrel must adapt. As there are no mittens or coats for squirrels, they have found another strategy to feed themselves in winter: stock up on food.
That’s exactly what those piles of cones on the ground are: they’re a larder for the winter. Squirrels spend the fall gathering food and making a pile at the base of their tree. Then, all they have to do is go down into the snow, dig a single hole, and they have access to all their food. How clever is that?
Two Winter Storage Strategies
A cousin of the red squirrel, the grey squirrel, has a completely different strategy. Instead of putting all its eggs in one basket, it has several hiding places in order to foil possible thieves. Some have even been observed pretending to hide an acorn, before going to hide it elsewhere!
Bigger than his red cousin, more present, and a little less liked, let’s just say that he doesn’t mind raiding garbage cans… or anything else!
Does this mean that red squirrels don’t steal? No, it doesn’t! In fact, they’re happily robbing their neighbors… who in turn rob them! Studies have shown that these little rascals steal as much as they are stolen from… returning to a status quo where everyone has more or less the same amount of food.
What to Do With All These Cones?
Well, just like fall leaves, leave them there! In the spring, you’ll even have the chance to see the pile of cones transformed into cone hearts without scales. This is a sign that your squirrels have eaten well this winter! If you want to, pick up those leftovers, but personally, I leave them there and they decompose, a good compost for the tree that hosts my squirrels!
The Role of the Red Squirrel
Although it isn’t really interested in your garden or flowerbeds, it has an essential role in nature. Moreover, the European species has been protected since the 1980s.
Nuts, which are actually tree seeds, are sometimes forgotten and germinate in their hiding place. Also, by feeding on mushrooms, the squirrel spreads its spores, which allows them to disperse. Having a very good sense of smell, this mammal can even find underground mushrooms such as truffles, for which the intervention of an animal is essential for its reproduction!
In other words, the red squirrel is a gardener too!