Sciurus carolinensis, the gray squirrel is the most common wildlife species in Minnesota. The gray squirrel is sometimes called bushytail because of its furry, thick tail. The fur on their backs is gray, though if you look more carefully it seems to be a layer of colors. Their underside is reddish brown with a reddish face. Round black, deep, beautiful eyes, look back at me. Tiny, human like hands capable of lots of mischief. Cute little ears and nose. They can be seen many places from backyards, woodlands, parks to rural and suburban areas. They are found mostly in hardwood forests. Gray squirrels nest in tree top dens or in tree hollows. Their ball shaped tree top dens are made of bark, twigs and leaves. Several of our trees in both the yard and woods boast such leafy nests. They eat hazelnuts, acorns, walnuts and seeds of trees. They also seem to enjoy sunflower seeds and corn kernels, an appetite that can make people consider them a pest.
As you walk among trees and hear a loud rustling, sounds like something large moving through the brambles given the noise, for a moment you can lose yourself in imagination, thinking it must be a bear, linger a moment longer and a gray squirrel scampers away in the opposite direction. I have always marveled at the noise these tiny creatures, weighing less than two pounds, could make while scurrying about their business. It seems most animals move through the forest noiselessly, hardly making a stir, but the squirrel seems to lack all stealth. Perhaps it’s because of their incredible speed that they feel like they don’t need to pass through quietly. As I’m on my morning walks, I often hear the scraping of their claws against the bark of a tree as they scuttle up the tree. Sometimes chattering to each other or scolding me as I walk by, shaking their tails.
Gray squirrels are quite entertaining creatures, filled with personality. (To say so isn’t anthropomorphizing, rather recognizing the spirit of the animal.) They are such busybodies, with seemingly very short attention spans, bouncing around like they’ve had way to much caffeine or energy drinks. Gray squirrels are also very talkative. Chattering, chirping, and scolding, no matter the occasion they always seem to have something to say and they aren’t shy about speaking their mind.
I find gray squirrels rather entertaining as the scurry around chasing each other in a game of tag. Their chattering and scolding is quite comical, the fuss such a tiny creature can rise. It is fun to watch them dart across the yard carrying a large walnut in their mouth and bury it somewhere in the yard.
Despite these traits, the squirrel is a very graceful creature. I enjoy watching the way a squirrel glides through the tree tops, jumping, almost flying, moving so fast yet never seeming to lose their balancing. I watch in silent wonder. When trees stand close enough together, a squirrel can leap from one tree to the next, never touching the ground. They are acrobats of the trees. Are they actually accomplishing something or are they just playing games? They also chase each other around the yard and up trees. Again, I wonder if it is a game or if the squirrel chasing is angry with the other or if it’s defending territory.
Earlier this winter, a gray squirrel expertly climbed into the apple tree in pursuit of a few remaining apples that were out of reach of the apple picker. Balancing on a branch in the beacon tree, it leaned out to reach an apple from the honey gold tree, it dangled from the branch upside down, grabbing the rotten apple. I wondered what held it in the tree; did it use its tail? I couldn’t tell. Do they have prehensile tails? It certainly appears so, but perhaps it is an optical illusion. Again, I saw a gray squirrel hanging upside down from the bird feeder. I observed its amazing feat with awe, though a bit irritated with it stealing birdseed and scaring away the birds.