“Bird” Feeder Survey, December 2018

In the snow belt, harsh winter weather and snow cover trigger aggressive feeding by resident wildlife. Bird counts and squirrel activity at artificial feeding stations reach an annual peak, a phenomenon that is most apparent in the midst of a snow storm. At various times throughout the day, chaos reigns as dozens of birds and mammals converge at feeders, providing wonderful opportunities for “wildlife watching” …and photography.

Chickadee and Downy Woodpecker feeding on a block of suet and grain.

Red-breasted Nuthatch at rest near feeders on a frigid winter morning

Blue Jay evaluating its feeding options

A pleasantly plump Gray Squirrel eating …. because it can!

White-breasted Nuthatch, an upside-down favorite

Red Squirrel digging for grain under a layer of fresh snow

Squirrels are notorious for their creative gymnastics around elevated “bird” feeders

Perhaps our most popular winter resident, cardinal sightings are down this year, and we don’t know why

Woodpeckers (Hairy and Red-bellied) squabbling over access to a suet block.

The Tufted Titmouse is expanding its range northward, influenced by artificial feeding and global warming

Photos by NB Hunter. © All rights reserved.

Spring Portrait: Stubby

Stubby, the subject of several posts over the last 5 months, continues to beat all odds and is alive and well!

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Stubby, the tailless, three-legged Red Squirrel; still running wild and free

Photo by NB Hunter

 

Stubby

Three young Red Squirrels visit the bird feeders throughout the day, feasting on a mix of cracked corn and sunflower seeds. Two are typical of the species, having prominent bushy tails, big feet and great agility.

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However, the third sibling is unlike any Red Squirrel that I have ever seen and has become the center of attention, with rock star status in the arena of backyard wildlife activity. Meet Stubby, a Red Squirrel without a tail … or left hind foot.

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I surmise that this young Red Squirrel was attacked from the rear by a predator, quite possibly a free ranging domestic cat. It managed to escape, the bushy tail providing a life-saving buffer and a mouthful of hair for the predator.

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When discovered several weeks ago, Stubby appeared to be free of infection or discomfort. At first falling, stumbling and listing sideways when moving and feeding, the squirrel’s balance and motor skills improved rapidly. Soon it was posturing for feeding rights and could run, albeit awkwardly, to the nearest spruce tree for cover.

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Like other Red Squirrels, Stubby is again feisty and domineering, his disabilities offset by a heavy dose of attitude.

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Perhaps as a show of grit, strength and invincibility to intimidate his siblings, Stubby ran several feet with a large apple before stopping to munch on it (fast enough to blur my photo). Under the circumstances, this was a Herculean feat. Even when running for cover in the absence of a load, Stubby tumbles along like a furry ball rolling erratically across the the lawn.

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The adaptability and recuperative powers of wild animals are miraculous. This case study is still unfolding: there is much more to be learned about Stubby the Red Squirrel!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Red Squirrels in Snow: Up, Down and All Around!

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American Red Squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) are generalists in every way, exhibiting a wide range of opportunistic behaviors that enables them to survive and prosper in some of the harshest winter weather on earth.

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Red Squirrels plan for winter, cutting and caching conifer cones in late summer. They’re tree squirrels, but are equally at home in the subnivean zone (the open, shallow layer that forms under deep snow due to ground heat), tunneling to avoid predators and harsh weather.

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Though conifer seeds are preferred food, they’ll eat just about anything, including the buds and inner bark of woody plants. They’re even known to chew into a maple twig in late winter and dine on the sweet sap. To top it all off, Red Squirrels are fast, feisty and fearless little rodents that will go to great lengths to defend their precious territories.

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I have a love – hate relationship with these squirrels. They’ve mastered the cute factor and provide hours of enjoyment in the dead of winter. They can also be destructive, damaging structures and their contents.

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At the moment, we have a pretty cozy, mutually beneficial relationship.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Young Red Squirrels

Three juvenile Red Squirrels – about a third the size of their parents – have discovered the bird feeders and no doubt concluded that this habitat is the key to a long and happy life. Yesterday they fed off and on all day long, in the rain, and I just couldn’t say no to the photo op.

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Two of the young squirrels made their way to the same grain pile and tensions mounted. One chattered incessantly, apparently to claim the feed and intimidate its sibling into moving elsewhere.

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The feeding stopped, they posed like tightly coiled springs, and…

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All I remember is taking pictures of a brownish furry ball flying every which way but loose!

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Sibling rivalry and pecking order settled, they continued feeding.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.