Shallow Thoughts

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Thu, 21 Sep 2006

Squirrel Babies: Chiquita and Ringlet

A few days ago, I saw our neighbor squirrel, "Ringtail", struggling along the fence with a baby in her mouth, and hoped that she was moving closer to us so we'd get to see the babies when they got older.

My wishes were answered: the very next morning a new young squirrel appeared to play on the fence. Dave called "her" (we're not sure about gender yet) Chiquita.

It's easy to tell squirrel youngsters: not only are they much smaller than adults, but they're quite klutzy and cautious about the aerial feats that the adults do without hesitation. Chiquita was fairly klutzy, once falling out of the red oak onto the motorcycle shed (a drop of maybe five feet, which didn't seem to hurt her).

Then the following day, both Ringtail and Chiquita showed up ... with another baby. This one has a ringed tail like "his" odd-looking mom, but otherwise looks like an ordinary young grey squirrel. Ringtail took a few nuts then disappeared, leaving the kids at nursery school (a role which we're only too happy to fill). We think they hang out in the atlas cedar in the front yard when they leave here.

We've been greatly entertained for the last few days, watching how fast the kids learn the business of being a squirrel. On the first day, they had a lot of trouble moving head-first downward on the fence: while Notch will scamper right down then leap to the deck, Chiquita stretches as far down as she can get with her rear claws hooked over the top of the fencepost, then stays there for many minutes, evidently trying to work up the nerve to move downward. When she does move, it's carefully, step by step, and making the leap over to the deck (only about six inches) also takes time and nerve. When squirrels are fearful of something, they lash their tails wildly, like an angry cat.

A red oak tree gives much better purchase for your claws. Neither squirrelet shows any hesitation about leaping the couple of feet from the fence to the tree trunk, though sometimes Chiquita misses and has to run around the tree trunk before she gets a secure hold. And when they're both in high spirits they'll chase each other at high speed through the tree's branches.

Their antics can be pretty funny -- like when Chiquita was nerving herself to drop from the deck to the ground, but her wildly-swinging tail dislogdged a rock on the deck, which fell next to her and sent her into a panic causing her to drop off the deck.

Both of them, but especially Ringlet, love the potted fuscia I have sitting on the kayak stand. They stand on their hind legs, reach down into the pot and dig: they'll bury a nut, then immediately dig it out again. Sometimes they eat the fuscia, too. The fuscia is not looking at all healthy now, and I've written it off as a squirrel toy.

Even from one day to the next, it's easy to see their skills improve. Yesterday afternoon Ringlet even made the jump from the roof to the fence -- only a few feet, but the landing is tricky since the top of the fence is less than an inch wide. They do still stumble and fall pretty often -- Ringlet fell from the tree to the ground yesterday, making an audible thump, then lay there for a few minutes before getting up. But they're looking more graceful every day. Ringtail still brings them by in the morning and drops them off, then heads off to work (or wherever it is she goes once the kids are safely in day care).

Notch hasn't been around much, though I can't imagine she's been scared off by Ringtail and the kids. I did catch sight of her yesterday. I was sitting in the yard watching Chiquita. (The kids are fairly tolerant of our presence as long as we move slowly, but we're still trying to get them accustomed to moving about the yard and finding nuts in the right places.) She'd finally moved from the tree across the fence to the post nearest the office, and I was hoping she'd come down and take a drink of water and notice the nut I'd put there for her. After about five minutes on the fencepost, looking longingly down at the water but evidently not feeling confident enough for a head-down descent, she finally started to make a move -- then froze. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye: Notch was ambling along the deck right past my chair. While Chiquita watched, rapt and motionless, Notch went decisively to the nut hole, pulled out the whole walnut (she dislikes all pre-shelled walnuts -- we've tried bulk ones from the local fruit stand and bagged ones from Trader Joe's, but Notch and I both agree that neither taste as good as the walnuts in the shell) and marched back the way she'd come.

That was enough for Chiquita: as soon as Notch was safely out of sight, Chiquita came straight down the fencepost and onto the deck, sniffed at the shelled nut (not hungry) and had a long drink of water. I still don't know if Notch knew Chiquita was there -- squirrels don't seem to have territorial battles with youngsters, so maybe Notch was just being nice to the kid. (And she obviously wasn't hungry anyway, or she would have eaten the walnut and asked for more.)

Pictures of Ringtail and Chiquita (no Ringlet yet) here.

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[ 18:00 Sep 21, 2006    More nature/squirrels | permalink to this entry ]