When a Squirrel Needs a Snack

What do squirrels eat? Plenty.

Squirrels like nuts, of course. In our corner of the woods, that means mostly acorns. They love seeds, flowers, bark, and mushrooms—the kinds that cling to trees whose insides are rotting with fungus. On the darker side, they’re known to raid birds’ nests—usually for the eggs, and sometimes they’ll take a nestling. All these squirrel snacks make perfect sense, even the bark. That toothsome treat provides starches, sugar, vitamins, and minerals.

This week, I noticed two additional foods in the squirrels’ diet. One makes me want to cheer, and the other has me scratching my head.

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Fluffy Feathers and Frigid Feet

You’ve probably seen birds fluff their feathers in winter.

The fluffy feathers form little puff pockets of air warmed by the birds’ bodies. But… have you ever seen a bird with feathered feet?

In the past few weeks, I’ve watched geese stand immobile for thirty minutes or more on ice and in shallow, frigid water. They seem unconcerned about freezing their feet. Turkey vultures poop on their feet to cool them off in summer. Is it possible, I wondered, that the geese are dropping little toe warmers, and I never noticed?

I reviewed hours of video featuring geese on ice. Nope. Nary a plop.

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Scratch that Itch!

Mites and lice and fleas: Oh my!

Have you ever watched a scratching squirrel? Those little paws move incredibly fast, and I swear, their under-the-armpit maneuvers mimic taking a shower. I wrote a blog post about itchy squirrels a year ago, surmising that their den was infested with fleas. This past week, quite a few creatures’ itchy behavior caught my eye: the squirrels, a juvenile bald eagle, adult and juvenile swans, and two kinds of ducks—goldeneyes and mergansers.

So, what’s with all the picking, poking, biting, and scratching?

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Snag Face

A squirrel perched on a patch of snow.

Why, I wondered, had he selected this icy spot? There was plenty of dry seating nearby. The furry fellow sat perfectly still, his face disclosing no sign of discomfort. I zoomed in to see if he was shivering. That’s one way that squirrels stay warm.

Studying the squirrel through the lens, I could count his whiskers. But seeing no sign of a shiver, I stepped back from the camera.

That’s when I saw the second face.

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An Icy Eagle Encounter

The Bald Eagles were brawling on the ice.

At least, that’s what I thought I saw. I had been watching two juveniles for about twenty minutes.  Motionless in the frigid wind howling over Lake Allegan’s ice, the eagles appeared to be scanning for fish.

That was unusual, however. Our eagles typically conduct surveillance from high in the nearby trees. An island—aptly named Eagle Island by Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources—provides a broad view of the surrounding water. But these birds stood next to a narrow gap in the ice. Their horizontal line of sight would allow only a limited view of open water flowing in the lake’s main channel.

Then, as I pondered, one of the eagles dive-bombed the other. Perhaps they were not fishing, after all. Were they having an avian tiff?

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No Soap Needed

In a driving rain, a squirrel sat on my favorite snag.

Snags are dead and dying trees, like the broken beech behind our home. Over the years, this tree has welcomed nesting woodpeckers, starlings, flycatchers, and wood ducks.  In winter, squirrels move in. They leave their summer dreys—the leafy nests we see in the crooks of branches—for warmer quarters.

On that wet, cold morning, I wondered: Why wasn’t the squirrel sheltering inside the tree? There are several cavities within the hollow snag. He wasn’t scampering for food. Instead, he sat placidly in the rain, perched on the very top of the tree.

Then—well, with a small dose of imagination—I realized what he was up to.

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Bing! Bang! Clang!

Bing! 

Our screen house took a direct hit. Bang! In a long bounce, the acorn slammed the deck below.  Clang! It ricocheted to a metal table. Seconds later, a repeat performance.

This percussion suite continued for an hour until the musicians—squirrels nibbling in the oaks above—finished their early evening harvest. Acorns littered the deck, tables, and chairs.

Along with the mess came a mystery.

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How to Annoy an Eagle

Unflappable.

That seems an apt descriptor for a Bald Eagle. Lacking any natural predators, these powerful birds have little to fear in our placid Lake Allegan neighborhood.

That doesn’t mean they’re not wary. We’ve learned not to dash to the window when an eagle lands in one of our trees. They notice the tiniest motion and move on. You can picture me tiptoeing across the room like a Great Blue Heron, trying to sneak to my camera unnoticed. If I succeed, I shoot video through the glass, lest I make noise moving the sliding glass door.

A few weeks ago, an eagle stopped by. True to form, it saw my careful approach and bolted. But the creature didn’t go far. It took a short hop to the aptly named Eagle Island opposite our home. He was far enough away that he didn’t care if I stepped out of the house, but (barely) in range to capture some decent video.

The entertainment started when I realized he wasn’t the only bird perched on an island branch.

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Noisy Neighbors

I’m forever looking out the window.

Even when I’m immersed in a banking or children’s writing project, my peripheral vision keeps an eye on the treetops surrounding our house. I don’t catch fascinating critter behavior every day, or even every week. And of late, I seem to be in a wildlife dry spell. I suspect they’ve all been hiding from the recent scorching heat and thunderstorms.

So, I thought I might have to skip a blog post (I shoot for about every two weeks).

But this morning, I was searching for bird video related to a children’s book I’m working on, and I found an irresistible clip to share.

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High Drama

The cute Eastern Gray Squirrel appeared to have nefarious intent.

Woodpecker nestlings are loud, and their high-pitched squeaks are constant. Every squirrel in the neighborhood was no doubt aware they’d taken up residence in the tree.

So, when I spotted the bushy-tailed rodent repeatedly peeking into a Hairy Woodpecker nest cavity, I was pretty sure it was shopping for a meal.

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