An eastern gray squirrel mother grabs one of her pups and tries to yank it out of the nest

Not Ready to Leave the Nest

Mama squirrel says: It’s really time to go.

What we’ve long called our ‘squirrel tree’ gave us a special treat this spring. A mama squirrel nested in a corner of a craggy snag that’s easy to see from the house. Most of her kit-rearing took place out of view, deeper in the tree. But when it was time for Mama to nudge the kids from the nest, we got a front-row seat to her parenting.

I’m glad I had the video cam ready. You will really want to see Mama’s get-them-out-of-the-house technique.

My squirrel research tells me that baby squirrels are usually ready to leave the nest at about ten weeks, so that’s a guess for how old they are in the video. If I hadn’t seen the youngsters next to their mom, I’m not sure I would know how young they are, as they’re nearly the same size as their parent. One clue seems to be differences in tail bushiness (is that a word?). The kids’ tails are skinnier than mom’s bushy plume.

We have a lot of black squirrels here in southwest Michigan, and before we moved here, I always assumed that black squirrels were their own breed of critter. I’d seen them en masse in Kent, Ohio, where I went to grad school, and as a visitor to Toronto. But from my treetop view here in Allegan, I see that gray squirrel parents can produce both gray and black offspring. You’ll see that for yourself as you watch Mama and her kids in the video.

The black squirrels’ color, it turns out, is simply a pigment difference, not the trait of a separate species. An interesting Detroit Free Press article puts the explanation in simple terms. If you have an appetite for a deep scientific dive, a scholarly study from the U.K. gives a much more detailed explanation.

So, back to Mama nudging and prodding the kids. ‘Hauling’ is probably more apt than ‘prodding.’ Watch the video, and you’ll see what I mean.

For a longer bit of storytelling, you might enjoy another video, where Mama also tries a tame, show-and-tell method, popping in and then demonstrating what it means to leave the familiar confines of the nest.

These four squirrel pups are watching warily for mama’s return.

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