A foxy little squirrel

Sunday, November 29, 2009

One day last week I sat near the base of a large old poplar tree and watched the squirrel pictured here travel across the ground from an adjoining hill to the small log immediately in front of me. He did not see me until he was almost ready to jump on me. He purred and fussed quietly as I photographed him.

The American fox squirrel is North America's largest tree squirrel. It is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the red squirrel. The American red squirrel is a separate smaller species that lives in the pine forests of the Rocky Mountains. The fox squirrel ranges widely throughout the eastern U.S. except for New England.

Fox squirrels favor oak/hickory forests that have large, old trees with den holes and an open understory, but they can be found in almost any woodlot. They adapt well to urban neighborhoods where trees are plentiful. They primarily eat nuts and acorns, but this squirrel will eat a large variety of foods, including corn, bird eggs, insects and even baked goods. I once witnessed a fox squirrel eating a large, live crawdad.

A mature old fox squirrel may live to be more than 8 years old and weigh more than two pounds. On the squirrel's face are several long coarse hairs or whiskers above and below the eyes, and on the chin and close to the nose. Some predators of the fox squirrel are coyotes, owls, hawks, large rattlesnakes and humans. A knowledgeable squirrel hunter is aware of the fox squirrel's habit of climbing to the highest reaches of a tree to escape danger. The bark or scolding chatter of a fox squirrel is usually coarser in sound and slower in cadence from the more nervous gray squirrel.

@body_no_indent italics:Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell.

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