Critter Guard/ Mirror Staff
A Squirrel’s To-Do List
In animals, seasonal changes are tracked by the photo-neuroendocrine system, a sensitive collection of glands, hormones, and neurons that are wired to adjust our internal chemistry as the length of a day changes. When the photoperiod begins to shorten in the fall, squirrels take notice.
Build a Nest
Squirrels sleep in nests year-round, but a nest or cavity den is essential for squirrels to stay nice and toasty in the winter. Nests are often built out of twigs, leaves, and moss in tall trees, although a squirrel won’t turn down your home’s attic to build its nest. Cavity dens are usually found in hardwood trees where woodpeckers or other animals have left holes. Throughout the year, a squirrel may have multiple nests and cavity dens to help it evade predators and bad weather.
Tree squirrels are surprisingly clever about how they store their food for the winter. Rather than keeping it all in one place, they spread it out around their nests; this is called “scatter hoarding.” They also may pretend to bury something in one place and then actually bury it somewhere else to throw off competitors! Squirrels eat a variety of nuts, seeds, berries, insects, and even bones. In the winter, squirrels return to their buried hoards during the day. It seems that they’re able to remember where their food is by using a technique called “spatial chunking,” where they bury similar types of foods in similar places.
Build Up Fat Reserves
Just as they store food underground for use during the winter, squirrels store fat on their bodies in preparation for the cold. When food is scarce, a good layer of fat offers the energy a squirrel might need to survive. It also helps them stay warm when the temperature drops.
Squirrels are industrious creatures, so that while other animals are hibernating, they can keep scampering about in the cold season.