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Red Squirrels Making Middens

10-15 red squirrel midden 209Red squirrels bury food for winter consumption both individually as well as in caches or “middens.” These food supply piles may be in a hollow tree, in an underground den or in a hollow at the base of a tree. Middens consist of intact cones, cut when they are green with their seeds still enclosed, as well as debris (woody bracts, or scales, etc.) from the cones that accumulates from the squirrel’s eating the seeds. If a midden is located underneath a favorite feeding site, not only is the midden large (up to four feet tall), the moist, decomposing pile of scales provides an ideal place for stored cones to be kept fresh and viable, as the moisture keeps them from drying and opening. Other foods, including nuts, hawthorn and sumac fruit, are also stored in this way. (Note entrance hole at base of midden.)

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3 responses

  1. Jack Shepherd

    This is an interesting use of the word “midden.” When Kathleen and I have done field work in East and Southern Africa, the word “midden” usually meant an animal waste deposit — i.e. a rhino midden — not a food storage area. Does this word have a very different use in North America, or for small mammals? Jack Shepherd

    October 16, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    • Hi Jack, I looked up “midden” in wikipedia and “midden” can mean many things, from anything that is a mess (Scotland/England) to a dump for domestic waste or a pile of shells…when used in reference to small animals such as red squirrels, it refers to food storage. Apparently many animals deposit their waste in a pile referred to as a midden, and some use middens as territorial markers. It has a range of meanings – more than most words I’ve run across!

      October 16, 2015 at 2:25 pm

  2. Jean Harrison

    I didn’t know there were so many definitions. For me, in California, a midden is a garbage pile left by native Americans, mostly waste, often for example, shells.

    October 18, 2015 at 3:55 pm

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