christmas decorations?

Over the past week or two, it seems that someone’s been busy decorating trees throughout the gardens. Yesterday, I found this pine cone lodged in the branches of a small apple tree. That little yellow dot off to the left is an apple that is lodged in a lilac bush. Here’s another apple — one of dozens — that is hanging up among some rose bush and lilac branches (see below). So, who do you think might be responsible for decking the trees in apples and pine cones?

If you guessed Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), you would be right (see photo below – the squirrel photo was taken a year ago this week, so there’s some snow among the leaves. This year, no snow and it’s about 60F!).

At least one Red Squirrel has been busy caching away apples and pine cones as provisions to carry it through the coming winter months. Some years, I find caches of a half dozen or so apples packed into the highest branches of the maple trees. This year, the strategy seems to have changed somewhat. I believe the squirrel may be trying to spread its resources around a little more as the apples are distributed singly, here and there throughout the gardens. Last year, the larger apple caches caught the attention of the Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata). They would work in pairs or trios as they tore into the apple cache while the frantic squirrel raced from branch to branch trying to chase the birds away. For the most part, it was successful, but its behaviour seemed to become increasingly psychotic as the weeks rolled by. In time, the squirrel was seen flinging itself at the birds so recklessly, that it fell from the treetops to tumble to the ground below. Eventually, the squirrel became so obsessive about protecting its tree full of apples, that it began attacking an Eastern Cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) that came round to clean up sunflower seeds below the bird feeders. You can read more about the Psycho Squirrel and its war with the rabbit in this post which includes some video footage of one of the many skirmishes that I witnessed last winter (you’ll have to suffer through the spinning video clip title which was attached to the file for another purpose). The follow-up to that story appears in this post where the squirrel and rabbit finally established an uneasy truce that seemed to hold through to springtime.

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4 Responses to “christmas decorations?”

  1. robin andrea Says:

    We have little Douglas Squirrels and apple trees, but I’ve not seen the squirrels stash away any apples. I always imagined squirrels hiding things inside tree holes, so this is a surprise to see it out in the open like this. It’s cool. I’ve seen lots of fallen apples that have been munched pretty thoroughly, and our squirrel tries every few days to get around the bird-feeder baffle, but eventually tires himself out and stops. There does seem to be a bit of mania about its behavior!

  2. burning silo Says:

    robin – The Red Squirrels make huge heaps of cones on the ground in the bush, so I guess they’re used to creating caches out in the open. A couple of friends have mentioned seeing the apple caching behaviour, so it seems to be common. I was surprised to find that the squirrel is caching pine cones up in the trees in a way similar to the apples. I would have thought it would just use the usual cone pile caching method.

  3. Wayne Says:

    Bev – what were you doing in the highest branches of the maple trees? I have no problem envisioning it.

    Our gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis)- and what’s up with the putting squirrels into different genera, I wonder? One of those animal things, I guess – aren’t nearly as clever as yours. They’re always busy but I haven’t noticed them stashing stuff like that. I’ll have to keep my eyes open.

    One thing is that we don’t have apples here like that. It’s a northern thing, I think. So our grays are limited to stashing walnuts and hickory nuts, which can go unnoticed.

    Re: the bluejays – I’ve noted how we have very few out here, although they’re very common in town, and that the ones we have are very timid, keeping to the levels of the highest branches of trees. They don’t even raid the feeders. Yesterday I was noting, as I have before but had never made the connection, how MANY crows we have. I wonder if that’s why the bluejays keep a low profile?

  4. burning silo Says:

    Wayne – I wander all over the place — even up in the trees! Actually, we have a nice view of the maple tree out of one of my office window, so I get to see all of the action as it happens.
    I don’t know much about squirrel taxonomy, so can’t say much about the genera — seems like something worth checking out though. I’ve noticed that the Red squirrels behave very differently from the Gray squirrels that hang out around my mom’s house in the city. Those squirrels just seem to be interested in nuts, while the Red Squirrels go after everything (unfortunately, I’ve even seen them raiding bird nests for eggs and young hatchlings). A naturalist from this area told me about seeing a Red squirrel hopping toward her carrying what was obviously the hind leg of a Gray squirrel (I doubt it killed it, but must have scavenged it from somewhere). The apple thing is really weird though, as the squirrels try to carry the apples while leaping branch to branch. The apples are so big that the squirrels often don’t make it and flip over and crash to the ground.
    We have a lot of bluejays here, but we’re surrounded by a lot of conifers, so I think it’s ideal habitat for them. The ones here are very noisy and, while not tame, they are certainly quite outgoing and get into everything. Not sure about the Crows. We have both around here and they don’t seem to interact too much.