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Red Squirrel Sign

4-11-17 squirrel nip twig2 019An obvious sign of Red Squirrels, especially noticeable if snow is still on the ground, is the remains of their feeding activity. In winter and early spring, when snow may make finding food on the forest floor difficult, Red Squirrels show a preference for conifer buds. Rather than scurrying up a tree and eating the buds, they first prune the branch tip from the tree, eat the buds and then discard the tip onto the ground. Spruces, hemlocks and firs are some of their main sources of buds. If the squirrel feeds for a significant amount of time, the forest floor under the conifer it is feeding in can become littered with branch tips. Nip twigs scattered on the ground beneath hemlocks are also a sign of Porcupine feeding, but the tips they drop are much longer than the 2- to 4-inch tips discarded by Red Squirrels. (Photo:  Balsam Fir branch tips; Inset – lateral buds of Balsam Fir branch tip eaten by Red Squirrel)

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5 responses

  1. Alice Pratt

    That’s a LOT of pruning. I wonder why sticky sap doesn’t seem to stick to paws, fur & teeth and bother them?

    April 11, 2017 at 6:34 am

  2. Lucinda

    I miss seeing this! The Red Squirrels have disappeared here (Putney Mountain). Still have greys and chipmunks. Anyone know what happened to them? I thought weasels, but it has been a few years now with zero red squirrels.

    April 11, 2017 at 8:11 am

  3. we are so glad to know the source of all those tiny sruce clippings, more this winter than in any other. Red Squirrels! They are good at hiding themselves too. Thank you for this observation which solves our mystery!

    April 11, 2017 at 8:19 am

  4. Ruth Sylvester

    Thanks, Mary, for the completely timely post. Yesterday I was strolling the garden perimeter and I noticed our fir tree had lots of sprigs on the ground. Now my Wonder what did that? is answered. Off to examine the twigs more closely.
    Another reason (besides bugs) that it’s hard to find a single leader on a conifer these days?

    April 11, 2017 at 2:26 pm

  5. Thank you for this info! I never knew what was doing it. I see it — just as shown in your picture, under balsam fir — occasionally in my balsam-pine-spruce forest (dominated by balsam fir). I have lots of red squirrels (number varying year-to-year) but this feeding pattern shows up infrequently.

    April 17, 2017 at 6:33 pm

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