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.