A Day in the Life of a Squirrel
Squirrels are so common throughout our region that we often do not take a second glance if one passes us along our walks. If you have walked around Haverford’s Arboretum, chances are you have spotted one of these furry creatures while it was searching for acorns or scampering up a tree. Although we often do not give them much thought or appreciation, squirrels have fascinating lives and play important roles in our ecosystems. Today, I am going to take you through the life of a squirrel at Haverford—from a squirrel’s perspective—and offer you a glimpse into their world.
You have probably seen me or one of my siblings while we were scurrying around campus. I am an eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), the most common type of squirrel in Pennsylvania. The fox, red, and flying squirrels are also native to our state, but I rarely see them. Although we are called gray squirrels, we may also be white or black. Albinism (white coloration) is rare, but melanism (black coloration) is quite common. I am a black squirrel. I have seen a few other black squirrels around the Arboretum, but I have never seen a white squirrel. Although I am not territorial and am quite friendly, I live mostly alone in my den. I made my den out of a small snag, the name for a dead standing tree. I love living in Haverford’s Arboretum, where there are plenty of trees for me to make cozy dens and find food.
I have lived on Haverford’s campus since I was a baby. I was born in a litter of five. Although about a quarter of squirrels do not make it past their first year of life, I have been fortunate enough to make it to two years old. It can be tough and frightening being a squirrel. We are born blind and hairless, so we are dependent on our mothers for up to two months. Sadly, one of my brothers got taken by a red-tailed hawk who had been stalking my family from above. Also, when one of my sisters had ventured beyond our nest, she almost got attacked by a dog along the Nature Trail. We have to watch out for predators like owls, foxes, and snakes in addition to humans’ cars and pets. Now that I am an adult, my other siblings and I can expect to live another four to five years. I have learned my way about the Arboretum and use my sharp senses and agility to evade perilous predators.
Although I can only see in black and white, I have keen eyes and can detect movement well, which helps me avoid predators and other dangers. I also have acute senses of hearing and smell. Although I don’t mean to brag, I am also super fast and agile. I love jumping from branch to branch and scaling Haverford’s large white oak trees (Quercus alba). I think you humans may call this parkouring, and I am naturally skilled at it. Something you might not know about me is that I use my bushy tail to keep myself balanced. I also have sharp claws, which I use to grab ahold of bark and shimmy my way up tree trunks. If I get scared, I will freeze and flatten myself against the tree. I will then inch my way around the circumference of the tree until I make it to a safe height.
One of my favorite spots to hang out on campus is around the Dining Center and Duck Pond. This is where many of the white oak trees and their acorns are located. I am also a big fan of the black walnut trees (Juglans nigra) located along College Lane and College Circle. Some other types of mast that I eat are hickory nuts and beech nuts—mast is any type of fruit, seed, or nut from a forest tree that is eaten by wildlife. My other favorite snacks include berries, mushrooms, pine seeds, and the fruits of dogwoods (Cornus) and wild cherries (Prunus). Many humans do not know that I am an omnivore—I will sometimes eat small insects, eggs, and animal carcasses when other food is scarce. In the early spring, I will also eat the buds and flowers of red maples (Acer rubrum) and sugar maples (Acer saccharum), which help provide me with the calories and hydration that I need. In the winter, I will search for the nuts that I buried in the fall, but sometimes I forget where I had cached them. Sometimes these buried nuts sprout and grow into trees, and in this way, I help to repopulate forests. Although I know that some other mischievous squirrels will sneak food out of bird feeders, I have plenty of food around Haverford’s Arboretum, so I am not tempted to go into any human’s yard.
Now I hope you have learned a little more about me and my life as a squirrel in Haverford’s Arboretum. I really appreciate how much adoration you humans show us here at Haverford since we are often ignored or considered pests elsewhere. I especially like the giant squirrel carving at the Nature Trail entrance and black squirrel emblems all around campus. Maybe you will spot me on your next walk around the Arboretum, and feel free to say hello if you do (socially distanced, of course)!