Benefits and Challenges of Squirrels

Benefits and Challenges of Squirrels

We find it interesting to consider the benefits and challenges of squirrels. Now that most of our trees in this area have shed their leaves, we can see nests that are different from bird nests high in our trees. They are round and are not open on the top. The nest design programmed into the squirrel DNA has the structural integrity to withstand high winds, heavy rain or snow, and even the invasion of most predators.

Squirrels begin by weaving twigs to make a floor or platform for the nest, usually in a fork high in the tree. Next, they place damp leaves or moss on this floor and weave it around the base, making a spherical nest. Then they stuff leaves and twigs into the sphere, leaving an inner cavity which they line with shredded bark and leaves. Squirrels usually complete their construction in the fall, although they may start as early as June. They are typically solitary but may share a nest for warmth in the coldest winter months or for mating and raising their babies.

Squirrels may also take advantage of any shelter they can find. For example, they can use an old woodpecker nest in a hollow tree and line it with moss and leaves. Unfortunately, squirrels will also take advantage of human structures to nest. For example, they may exploit an abandoned car, a hole in a roof, a woodpile, or an unused boat or camper. Being aware of the abilities of squirrels gives us a way to avoid damage or problems they might cause.

Squirrels are intelligent and very athletic animals. Those of us who have bird feeders can tell many stories of how squirrels evaded our best efforts to keep them from eating the birdseed. The main diet of squirrels is nuts and seeds, but they also eat insects, grubs, and beetles. They frequently bury nuts for later use and fail to dig up a percentage of them which then grow into trees. Oak trees planted by squirrels are a significant part of reforestation in northern areas.

As we think about the benefits and challenges of squirrels, remember that they are wild animals that can spread disease and insect bites from fleas, chiggers, and tics. Despite the challenges squirrels present, these small animals are designed to give us more benefits than problems. Enjoy the creatures God has given us to serve a purpose on this planet.

— John N. Clayton © 2021