Garden Diary - February 2009

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Sunday, 1 February 2009

Nesting Squirrels

There's this big old tulip poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera, easily seen from the window near the computer in my study. It has a major defect. Obviously there's a fairly major cavity where the two main trunks create a fork. How do I know? Because ever since we moved here and I laid dibs on this room, I've been able to watch the squirrels disappear into its recess. Yes, yes, I know. Squirrels are rats with furry tails. While I've had issues with them in other gardens they haven't been much of a problem here. To begin with, there are numerous oaks, some hickories, and black walnuts for winter provender. I don't have bird feeders, so no issue with the squirrels raiding for bird seed. (I have been told that if you mix red pepper flakes with the bird seed it becomes distasteful to the squirrels and the birds don't care.) Nor, apparently, have they gone after bulbs. Voles and mice are more of a problem in that regard. So I'm free to watch their acrobatic activities without irritation at out-of-sight depredations.

This time of year is nesting time. I've seen a squirrel strip a long piece of bark off the trunk of a nearby field cedar, Juniperus virginiana, then fold it into a tidy bundle which was carried by mouth back to the tulip poplar den. This year it seems to be dry oak leaves that will be used to line the cavity. This is the first litter, born in February to March, with a second litter in June to July.

I once saw two squirrels mating, and all I can say is she must have been holding on for dear life as their position on the branch was precarious, to say the least. The gestation period is about 44 days, with typically two to four young in a litter. The young are weaned at 7 weeks and leave the nest after 10 weeks.

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