Thom Smith | Naturewatch: Red squirrel spied at hummingbird feeder

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Robin and Larry Higgins of Plymouth, Mass., shared a surprising story with me recently. While looking out the window, they "saw a red squirrel sitting on the deck rail holding our hummingbird feeder. It tipped the feeder back and began drinking the sugar water!"

Even though I don't usually doubt the antics of these pesky rodents, both red and gray, this is a new one for me. And considering the small size of the red, it is quite a feat.

This species has a "sweet tooth" and is known to relish (as we do when boiled down) maple sap and can be observed stripping away the tender bark until the sap flows freely enough to lick. The more I visualized this 10- to 13-inch (not including tail) squirrel weighing on average about 7 ounces, the more outrageous the feat seems to me. I'd love to have seen it. The red is said to be more intelligent than even the gray, and we all know how shrewd they are.

The feeding habits and diversity of the red squirrel most likely exceeds those of the gray squirrel or chipmunk. It both stores a winter cache of food underground and when living among evergreens, as is most often does, it will store green-harvested cones in piles or "midden" heaps easily containing bushels of cones. While walking in pine or spruce or other evergreen woods this fall, keep an eye out for them. Some can be several feet high.

QAlthough I have not seen any lately, will keeping the hummingbird feeders up in October keep hummingbirds from migrating south? I don't want to delay them.

— Al, Bennington, Vt.

AIt will not delay these summer jewels, but help stragglers who may come upon one. I suspect most all have gotten much farther south by now. And while on the subject, I neglected to answer another feeder question regarding other birds that may feed at a hummingbird (or similar) feeder like orioles. These birds migrate when their internal "clocks" say migrate. Other factors include length of sunlight and weather along with instinct.

QHas the drought had much impact on wildlife here?

— Edward, Adams

AI am thinking fish, especially in streams and some rivers (like the Westfield) are most affected. When I read the state fisheries people are not stocking trout as usual in local streams in Gene Chague's newspaper column, Berkshire Woods and Waters, I took that as a good sign that something is amiss. I wanted to take my brother-in-law visiting from Texas stream fishing last week, and knowing streams were running low, we decided to put it off for another visit.

And something I never thought of occurred to me when it was suggested by our visitor that the drought might concentrate fish in the deeper pools. While that may be true, it also makes them vulnerable to predators.

Thom Smith welcomes your questions and comments. Email him at Naturewatch@live.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.


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