American Red Squirrel
Eleven to 13 inches from nose to tail tip, the red squirrel weighs 5 to 9 ounces. It has rusty-red back and sides, dull white underparts, and an elegant white ring around each eye.
Red squirrels live primarily in coniferous forests of Canada, Alaska, the Rockies, and the northern United States. They also thrive in deciduous forests. They live throughout Minnesota, with the exception of some western counties where farms and grasslands dominate.
Adapted to life in trees, these tiny acrobats demonstrate prodigious agility when running at breakneck speed from branch to branch. They are most active in early morning and late afternoon. In winter they prefer to travel in tunnels under the snow.
Red squirrels favor pine, fir, spruce, and cedar seeds, which have a high energy content to fuel their hyperactive metabolism. Piles of discarded cone cuttings can be found on stumps or rocks where a squirrel ate. In summer and fall, red squirrels cut and store thousands of green cones in hollow trees or underground caches called middens, which they fiercely defend. In deciduous forests, they add nuts of all kinds, buds, berries, tree sap, and mushrooms, including amanita species, which are poisonous to humans. They occasionally prey on birds eggs and young and baby rabbits and mice.
Males and females mate following dizzying courtship chases. The female is receptive for only one day. The nestlined with shredded bark, grasses, and leavesis usually built in a tree cavity. Leaf nests or hollow logs are also used. After a gestation of 35 to 38 days, the female gives birth to three to seven blind, hairless 1Ú4-ounce babies. Males dont rear the young. Mortality is high; only 25 percent survive their first year, when they reach sexual maturity. Life expectancy is five or six years.
Reds fall prey to hawks, owls, fishers, bobcats, red foxes, pine martens, and domestic cats.
Intensely territorial, they will scold trespassers with chatters, chirps, rattles, growls, and foot stomping and tail flicking.
Despite occasional damage to trees and cabins, red squirrels are beneficial to forests. By burying seeds and nuts and not always retrieving them, they act as seed dispersers and tree planters.