Red squirrel in tree with cone

Squirrelly, with his regular lunch of fir seed cones (click to enlarge)

Over the past year the landscape around our lower pond has been changing, thanks to Squirrelly, our resident Red squirrel.

This species (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) doesn’t hibernate so needs to eat year-round. In the wild, a Red squirrel requires about 2 hectares of territory – making our property just about the right size for one squirrel with a healthy appetite.

The Red squirrel’s main food is conifer seeds, and fortunately for Squirrelly, Douglas firs are plentiful at our place.

It’s fun to watch Squirrelly eating a fir cone: grasping it just like we hold a cob of corn, he (or perhaps she) moves the cone from side to side, devouring the nutritious seeds.

Those seeds, however, come with inedible scales – so the whole time Squirrelly is eating, he’s dropping his refuse on the forest floor. Over time, the discarded scales form a midden.

A long-fallen tree turned nurse log, which previously supported a tiny green forest of miniature mosses, now sports a thick brown blanket of scales. The pile of scales that used to lay below one end of the nurse log seems to have morphed into several piles running the length of the log. Each time we visit the pond the midden seems larger. (Hover over an image for caption; click for larger, slideshow view).


But a midden isn’t just a refuse pile: it’s also a pantry, where a squirrel hides cones it has harvested to eat later. Red squirrels need at least one midden in their territory to survive the winter. Sometimes females will acquire extra middens and “bequeath” these to their offspring – a valuable Red squirrel inheritance.

I’ve read that Red squirrel middens can grow as large as a garage. Our little Squirrelly has a big appetite – I sure hope he’s not out to set any records.

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About Laurie MacBride, Eye on Environment

Photographer and writer focusing on nature and the environment

7 responses »

  1. Robin says:

    Squirelly sure is cute. I love that nurse log. It looks as though fairies should live there.

  2. […] Landscaping by Squirrelly – this absolutely terrific photograph by Laurie MacBride forms the basis for a really, really interesting blog post.  Laurie has a resident squirrel living with her family on their property.  Now, I just love squirrels, we see a few of them around our place, too.  Laurie’s shot here features a real personality, and Laurie augments this awesome image with some truly fascinating facts about life for these furry creatures. […]

  3. Phil Lanoue says:

    I think Squirrelly is a little nutty. 😉

  4. Sherry Galey says:

    My goodness, I learn so much from reading your posts. I now know what a midden is! You got a great capture of Squirelly –I love how you name your creatures — but I am justin awe over the image of the nurse log. The shades of deep green, the soft moss texture — it looks truly magical.

    • Thanks so much, Sherry! I love the mossy look too – though it’s no longer on that nurse log, there are (fortunately) other mossy nurse logs about our place so we can still enjoy those colours and textures. As for middens – there is another type of midden that I wrote about earlier, created by aboriginal people on our coast – you’ll find that post here – that is, if my HTML coding in this reply is correct! 🙂

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