Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Thanks to reader for detailing how gray squirrels build nests

STACEY COLE February 01. 2013 9:54PM

A gentleman from Andover witnessed, and well described, the behavior or a pair of gray squirrels gathering leaves in fall to build a nest together. Never having seen this process, I have always been curious about how squirrels constructed their leaf nests. I appreciated the detail contained in the letter.

Our reader wrote in part: "I happened to look out my kitchen window and noticed a gray squirrel going down a maple tree trunk headfirst. It jumped into the thick blanket of leaves at the base and seemed to be rooting around in them, I thought for seeds. Rather, it was filling its mouth with those dry leaves. Up the trunk it went for twenty feet, jumped onto its branches, stopped to make some adjustment in its load and then continued up another twenty feet, jumped to an adjoining blue spruce and went to the top, a good fifty feet off the ground. The blue spruce had no needles the first 25 feet, then slowly increased its needles until the last 10 feet looked like a Christmas tree. Into the Christmas tree the squirrel went. Soon there were two of them making the trip about once a minute. One would take eight or ten leaves, always stopping part way up to readjust, never losing any. The other would take ten or fifteen leaves, losing one or two each stop for adjusting. I do not know how long they had been doing this. After watching for fifteen minutes one seemed to be stopping on the way down as if saying, 'Don't we have enough?' then continued; the other kept collecting. Finally they both remained in the top of the blue spruce. During the time I watched they must have collected about 800 maple leaves.

"I didn't think they raised young this time of year."

Turning once again to the book, "New Hampshire Nature Notes" written by my old friend, Hilbert R. "Bandy" Siegler, I found the following: "In New Hampshire the gray squirrel breeds in mid-winter. The gestation period is about 44 days so that the one to four young are usually born sometime in March. There is another upsurge of litters in late summer. The mother takes the entire responsibility for care of the young while the father is out two-timing with other females. Generally born in cavities of trees but sometimes in leafy nests in tree tops, the young remain blind for about five weeks. When disturbed the mother may carry them considerable distances. In transit the young wrap their tails and legs around their mother's neck. Most wait until their second year to mate. The squirrel's chief enemies are great horned and barred owls, foxes, bobcats, some hawks and martens."

Bandy retired on June 30, 1976, as Game Management and Research Chief after 33 years service at the N.H. Fish and Game Department.

Speaking of bobcats, in mid-January, my good friend Ted Walski, biologist for N.H. Fish and Game, dropped by to show me two exceptionally large bobcats. It seemed so to me for they were the largest I have ever seen. They had big heads, short tails and, when stretched out, appeared quite long.

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On Jan. 3 a Rumney reader wrote in part: "Thought you would be interested that about once a week, up until the cold weather came, I have been seeing 6 bluebirds. They seemed to stay about a couple hours and were usually here either on Saturdays and Sundays. They were going in and out of the three birdhouses that I have on a small slope behind my house. Since I had six bluebirds this summer, I wonder if they are the same ones. My daughter who lives in Parsonsfield, Maine, also has been seeing them regularly until the cold weather arrived. It seemed late to me to be seeing them in December.

"My feeders have been busy with all the usual birds and nothing unusual. Today I did notice that as two red squirrels hung bottom side up on two of the feeders, the chickadees were brave enough to go to the other side and get their sunflower seeds. Since the snow and cold weather arrived, I have not seen a gray squirrel near the feeders."

Here at the farm I saw a pair of bluebirds visit our birdhouse that bluebirds nested in this past summer. In fall and early winter it is not unusual for them to do that. It certainly appears that last summer's nesters are revisiting their former home. In seriously rugged weather bluebirds do use birdhouses for a safer night's sleep.

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On Jan. 6 a Candia reader wrote in part: "I saw a peregrine falcon from my office building in Manchester that has prompted me to write of my sighting of redpolls at my feeder in Candia. What an animated group, seeming always in motion. Over 30 birds flitted for about 10 to 20 minutes. That is only the second sighting of them that I can recall. Last time I saw them was 30 or so years ago in Manchester."

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey 03446.

Nature Talks

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