Like most folks, I’ve had plenty of experience with squirrels – watching them frolic in the yard, steal birdseed from my birdfeeders, avoid cars in street. The one thing I always wondered was, what’s going on up in those nests in the trees? Well, this past Saturday, I learned the answer to that question. I spent Saturday morning at a training class for volunteer interpreters (for nature and history programs) at my favorite state park, Sky Meadows. One of the other volunteers at the program works with a wildlife rescue group, and she was taking care of three baby squirrels – what a treat to be able to see these little guys up close! I learned a few new things about squirrels and the happenings in the nest this time of year:
- at 1-5 days old, baby squirrels are about the size of a woman’s thumb, from knuckle to tip. They have no hair and are totally pink.
- at about 2-3 weeks, they begin to have more visible grayish purple hair
- at about 3 weeks, the lower front teeth begin to emerge, while the upper front teeth don’t emerge until about 5-6 weeks
- at about 5 weeks, the squirrels’ eyes open and their tails begin to curl over their backs
- at about 6-7 weeks, the squirrels are fully furred and a week later, they get their fluffy tails!
- squirrel mothers actually have to help the baby squirrels urinate by licking the babies’ genitals – the babies are so helpless they can’t do it on their own (makes this greenmomster think the diapers weren’t so bad after all….)
- the genus name for squirrel is “Sciurius”, which is a combination of the root words “skia” for shadow and “oura” for tail, since they sit in the shadows of their tails wrapped over and around their backs and heads
These cute little guys were picked up by the wildlife rescue league when their nest tree was cut down. So, other than the fact that these squirrels are so cute and the rescuers have big hearts, why go to all the trouble to save them? Squirrels are an important part of their ecosystems, providing seed dispersal, food, and predation within the ecosystem. And in rural areas, like Delaplane VA, squirrels aren’t nearly as numerous as they are in urban and suburban areas (think fewer predators in the latter areas).
If you need to remove a tree in your area, be sure to consider the squirrels. In the mid-Atlantic, squirrel babies are born in February and March, and then again in June and July. Thus, avoiding tree felling within about 3 months of that time will give enough time for the squirrels to mature and leave the nest. If you need to remove a tree – think November!