Someone else the recent warm spell brought out is the Red Squirrel that lives at my parents’. They’re rarely seen in the winter, and they tend to be grouped into the “hibernators” category. In fact, there are very few true hibernators, with ground squirrels and bats being the primary groups to do so in North America. Even bears aren’t true hibernators, with only slightly depressed body temperatures and awareness (compare some ground squirrels whose body temperatures may drop to below 0 degrees Celsius!)
Despite what I thought while growing up, Red Squirrels don’t hibernate in the winter either. Instead, they build caches of food near their nest during the fall, which they use, in combination with stored body fat, to get through the winter. They spend most of the winter within their nest, minimizing their amount of activity, and therefore required energy. Because their caches are usually quite close to their nest, they don’t have to stray far, or be out for long, and are not seen often as a result.
So I was delighted to notice that the warm spell had encouraged the resident Red Squirrel to venture out to the feeders to stock up the cache. He (or she) was incredibly quick, dashing from the roof down the tree to the driveway, grabbing a few seeds and perhaps a chunk of bread (my mom throws out the end slices as a treat for the crows), and then turning tail and dashing back up the tree with barely a hesitation. Most of the photos I got of him were of his rear end as he paused to gather some food.
I think he may have been nesting in my parents’ attic, or alternatively in the spruce trees that line the back of the house (the branches of which are a squirrel’s jump away from the edge of the roof). I could tell when he was coming back to the tree to scurry down to the driveway because of the pitter-patter of little feet across the roof above. Red Squirrels usually maintain several nests within their territory (which may be up to 50m in diameter), but tend to favour White Spruce as the nest tree. Spruce seeds make up more than half of the average Red Squirrel’s diet.
I find Red Squirrels to be especially wary. When walking in the woods, they don’t hesitate to dash up a tree and sit on a branch scolding you, even before chipmunks or Gray Squirrels that might also be in the area. In the case of this guy, I had to either be very still at the window (which meant standing with my camera posed for the shot), or stand back from the window. At the slightest movement he would dash halfway back up the tree, where he would pause and investigate the threat (me) for a moment or two. Either that, or take back off straight up the tree if he’d already gathered up some food.
More often than not, this was the shot I got!