Creature log in the smoke times

On the temperature front, we’re into a period of highs in the 80-85F range, which is merely hot, not drastically hot. The air quality index is down to 127, merely Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (like me); it was noticeably worse in the morning. The lightning strikes that lit up the night sky seem to have stopped for the moment, at least here. There haven’t been power outages here, and no ash is falling from the sky. So all of this counts as locally, and possibly temporarily, improved, and I judge that to be a blessing, even though it still hurts for me to breathe.

Meanwhile, my creatures — the birds and squirrels — are back to merely feeding, instead of eating ravenously as if the world were coming to an end. I now have two transparent bird feeders attached to the big windows by my work table; the birds that eat from feeders quickly became familiar with the new one, and they now come to the two of them about equally.

Thanks to Kim Darnell and to Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky, I’m now stocked up on a large assortment of foods for wild creatures (details to come), and I’m increasingly intrigued by the complexities of squirrel behavior — also challenged by the task of keeping the squirrels happy (they provide me with a giant circus of activity to watch) but out of the way of the birds.

(#1) The prevalent tree squirrel species locally (in the SF Bay area) seems to be the (invasive) eastern gray squirrel (sometimes in its melanistic (black) variant); my regulars are two gray ones — Scraggle-Tail, who is basically your risk-taking headstrong kid; and Bushy-Tail, with a just enormous tail gorgeously bordered in silver — and two black squirrels that I can’t tell apart

Tree squirrel background. From Wikipedia:

Tree squirrels are the members of the squirrel family (Sciuridae) commonly just referred to as “squirrels”. They include over a hundred arboreal species native to all continents except Antarctica and Oceania. They do not form a single natural, or monophyletic group; they are related to others in the squirrel family, including ground squirrels, flying squirrels, marmots, and chipmunks. The defining characteristic used to determine which species of Sciuridae are tree squirrels is dependent on their habitat rather than their physiology. Tree squirrels live mostly among trees, as opposed to those that live in burrows in the ground or among rocks.

The best known genus of tree squirrels is Sciurus, which includes the eastern gray squirrel of North America (introduced to Great Britain in the 1870s), the red squirrel of Eurasia, and the North American fox squirrel, among many others. Many tree squirrel species have adapted to human-altered environments such as rural farms, suburban backyards and urban parks; and because they are diurnal (active during the daytime) they have become perhaps the most familiar wildlife to most humans.

The crucial point here is that they are arboreal; they are adapted for living (feeding, nesting, breeding) in trees, for climbing on wooden surfaces of all kinds, and for traveling preferably by leaping from tree to tree (rather than running on the ground, though they’re perfectly capable of that). Much of what I provide them brings them down to the ground, but they’re always looking up, expecting good stuff to be up in the air.

Which, of course, is what makes them such pests for bird feeders, even when you provide them with highly desirable food lower down.

I do have two natural draws for squirrels: the wooden arbor over my front walkway, and an absolutely gigantic crape myrtle tree, one leap from the arbor, and providing a maze of branches for them to frolic in and aerial access to live oaks that they can nest and feed in.

On the wooden arch, see my 5/5/19 posting “Wooden arches”, with this view of the arch from the street, showing the wooden fence to my patio garden:


And then the crape myrtle, discussed in my 7/29/12 posting “Crape myrtle”. A common and very attractive flowering street tree locally (it’s not very frost-resistant, so it can’t be used in much of the US), but it rarely gets as gigantic as mine — I fear the city will chop it down as too big. A photo out of one of my big windows (the arbor is in the other one), showing the lower part of the tree, with its wonderful sculptural forms; accidentally capturing one of my two scrub jays busy mining one of the bird feeders for the peanuts they love so much; and showing the haze of smoke in the air this afternoon:

(#3) Lagerstrœmia indica

Treats for the creatures. Starting with the wild bird seed that came with the first bird feeder some time back:

(#4) Wagner’s Wild Bird Seed: millet, sunflower seed, cracked corn, milo, striped sunflower, safflower seed

Then, found by Kim Darnell: a bag of straight sunflower seeds; a bag of peanuts for wild animals (a great saving from using dry roasted peanuts for humans); and the Corn A Plenty Seed Cake Wild Bird Food:

(#5) The company’s description: With Kaytee Corn A Plenty Seed Cake Wild Bird Food, you can show your backyard squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and other critters some loving, too! This seed cake is designed especially for these furry critters, helping to fill their bellies. Each cake is packed with the equivalent of ten ears of corn, plus peanuts and sunflower seeds that critters will go nutty over. For a great wildlife viewing opportunity, hang this cake in a feeder station on a tree limb to watch squirrels’ acrobatic feats as they feast.

The peanuts were designed to lure the squirrels into the patio garden, away from the feeders  (but also in the feeders, for the scrub jays). The cake we put on top of a wooden bar chair, in the patio garden — so at least it was off the ground. As of this afternoon, it has been completely devoured.

Then from Elizabeth, a shipment of three more items, especially designed to provide high nutriton for squirrels:

Wild Delight Crunch N’ Nut Squirrel Food:


Exotic Nutrition Complete Squirrel Food:


And Wild Delight Deck Porch N’ Patio Food:


The bird feeder problem. We lived in a fool’s paradise for weeks, before the squirrels became aware of the bird feeders. And then they yearned, with every fabric of their sciurid beings, to get into those feeders, up in the air. They plotted at my windows, eventually discovering that every planter I had so carefully arranged by my big windows (so  that I could see my attractive succulents close up) could be deployed as a launching pad to leap inside the feeders. A motivated squirrel is, alas, absolutely relentless, so I had to remove all the plants elsewhere on the patio, away from the windows. As of this moment, there’s a stalemate: they haven’t been able to figure out how to climb up the windows or leap that far off the ground.

I do not suppose this is the end of the matter. A motivated squirrel is not only relentless, but also ingenious. If they could send drones in, they would. (If they had the canniness of the scrub jays, they would probably know how to do that, dreadful thought.)

Squirrel communication. I haven’t found any good survey of what the squirrels are communicating to one another (or the rest of the world) with their elaborate tail flickings, their suddenly splaying out flat on their bellies, motionless (I’m guessing that that’s predator avoidance; we do have hawks, and they eat squirrels), and their hyperactive comings and goings.

The tail-flicking thing is fairly often done face to face with another squirrel. As with wild animals in general, it can be hard to distinguish aggressive competition from mating behavior. My two black (melanistic) squirrels often do this with one another, and then one of them leaps off into the arbor and into the crape myrtle tree.

A few days ago they had one of these confrontations on the top of my fence — squirrel reality tv  for my enjoyment — and then one of them briefly but dramatically mounted the other and they fucked. Then they broke off and jumped crazily into different trees. Ok, so they’re a mated pair.

I still absolutely cannot distinguish one from the other. I now realize that I have never seen a recognizably pregnant squirrel. Maybe they go into confinement.

To come. Still more little birds. Oh my, the world is full of little brown birds,some of them quite exquisite if you get to see them close up.



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