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Squirrel abundance

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Squirrels have exceeded affordable abundance at our bird feeders. Gold arrives daily in the form of American Goldfinches but not in pocket treasure for buying birdseed. Their gold body with black wings and cap have streaks of white across the wings. Pink legs and orange bill brighten the day and our spirits. 

Male crimson headed House Finches have thick seed crushing bills bigger than those of goldfinches. Females of both species are more modest and subdued than males. Though gold shines through on the female goldfinches, they mostly glow olive green. White stripes on their wings are more prominent than on males and in equal the amount with black. House Finch females are mostly brown from tip of bill to tail tip. Brown overlies white on the chest and belly to the base of tail.

Blue Jays visit often but spend more time in the woods. Their less frequent presence is probably appreciated by other birds. The large size, long bill, and flashy big wings startle other birds. Jays fill their gullet and leave to hide food or eat privately. Watching behavior of the birds reveals different habits.

Black-capped Chickadees and Tufted Titmice make hurried comings and goings to the feeder and take a seed to another perch for eating. We watch them peck sunflower hulls to access the protein rich meaty innards. White-breasted Nuthatches spiral down a nearby tree and dart to the feeder to grab a bite. 

Summer seems to be peaking but some birds are already gathering in small flocks. Shiny black Red-winged Blackbird males with red shoulder epaulettes lined with a stripe of orange at the base are gathering in small numbers to announce migration will soon be underway. Female redwings are dark with light streaking. 

Always fun are the woodpeckers. Like all woodpeckers, the small Downy Woodpeckers have stiff pointed tail feathers that help them anchor when pecking tree branches. Larger Hairy Woodpeckers look nearly identical to downys but their undertail feathers do not have black bars on the white feathers. Red-bellied Woodpeckers barely have red on their bellies. The breast is solid gray and back is black with an almost equal amount of white lines and dots. Unlike Red-headed Woodpeckers, its red is restricted to a stripe on the back of the female’s head and red both on top and back of the male’s head but not on the gray sides or front.

Mourning Doves spend most of their feeder time eating seeds that fall to the ground but will perch on feeders. Other birds eating nearby that do not visit the feeder are American Robins and Northern Flickers. They find plenty of food in the yard. Eastern Phoebes prefer fresh live animal food and fly from perches to take flying insects. Species like Gray Catbirds lurk in hidden surroundings and require a sharp eye for viewing. 

A dozen or more squirrels have been breaking the bank by emptying the basket feeders daily. It became necessary to purchase a metal cone squirrel baffle to mount on the sheperd’s hook poles. Much to the squirrels’ chagrin, they are now limited to seeds that fall to the ground when birds pull seeds from the wire basket. About eight gray squirrels, four fox squirrels, and a couple red squirrels forage at once. This is a good time for them to learn they must search the neighborhood far and wide for native seeds and fruits. 

Trees and shrubs are busy producing this year’s bounty. Squirrels will plant many seeds with the purpose of returning to eat them. Some will escape rediscovery and grow new plants. We enjoy the squirrels. During the 90ºF heatwave, squirrels often laid on the shaded concrete sidewalk with legs outstretched to cool their bellies. 

Variety and numbers of birds are abundant filling different nature niches but they eat less than squirrels. Now I fill the feeders once or twice a week. It is nice to attract wildlife to view them through the living room window. One visitor says when she comes, it is like going to national park with squirrels, rabbits, and birds scattering in all directions when she comes up the drive. We still have plenty of squirrels but they are now required to spend more time as it should be foraging in the wild. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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