Join Skippy the squirrel as he explores his neighborhood and follows the developments of a Schoolyard Habitats® site right underneath one of his favorite trees. You and your students can use Skippy's story to investigate various aspects of habitat and neighborhood wildlife. Feel free to either read through the entire story, or to jump to a particular topic that interests you or your students. You can always go to the other ones later.
On April 13, 2005, your class can join Skippy as he helps to create and certify a Schoolyard Habitats site in Reston, Virginia. It will be an exciting day, so mark your calendars and join the fun at Dogwood Elementary!
Food, glorious food! There's nothing like it. I love to eat. Y-U-M! That's right, I'm a big fan of food. Are you?
What's your favorite food? Mine is nuts. Yeah, I'm nuts about nuts. Walnuts, beechnuts, hickory nuts, acorns, things that look like nuts. They're delicious, nutritious and easy to stash away for later. But you know what, I'm not picky. And everyone likes a little variety, right? I eat seeds too. And sometimes flowers and those tasty little leaf buds, and maybe even a little tree bark to spice things up. It's crunchy, you know. If I'm really hungry and want something ultra-gourmet, I may go out on the town, find a nice, juicy egg in a bird's nest, or chow down on some wiggly insects. Now, that's a fine meal! I'll also be happy to help you out by finishing your leftovers, especially the ones you leave out on Monday mornings in big plastic bags with little rips in them. Got bread, meat, cupcakes? Yum! I'll eat pretty much anything I can find.
In the fall, I spend a lot of time hiding my nuts in little bunches just under the ground, so I'll have them in the winter, when they're harder to find. But my memory's not so good and I can't always remember where I hid everything. And the trees thank me for that, since the ones I never dig up often grow into trees later on! Hey, I’m gardening for wildlife too! How cool is that?!
To help me eat all these tasty treats, I've got a nice set of teeth. Hopefully you haven't seen rodent teeth too close up, but they are built for chewing on nuts! My front teeth (the incisors) are strong and have a sharp inside edge that makes them, luckily for me, excellent for gnawing and stripping bark off trees. They continue to grow throughout my whole life. Teeth are a most excellent adaptation!
We squirrels have to eat a lot! About our own weight in food every week! That's about one pound, you know.
I like to live in a nest. It's warm and cozy. I build a big nest with leaves and twigs and everything else I can find. I like to build it high up in tree branches so I won't be bothered by curious children or those annoying little chipmunks! If I can find a hollowed out space in a tree, I'm definitely there. That means a lot of the shelter is already built for me. I mean really, who wants to do more work than they have to? Hoorah for less work!
My nest, like your own home probably, is very important to me. I sleep there, of course. Sometimes I like to share a nest with my buddies. But nests aren't just for sleeping, you know. My nest protects me from predators (like hawks or cats, yikes!), helps keep the babies safe, and when it rains — I have a place to go. No one likes to be out in the rain. And I don't have an umbrella. (If you happen to see a squirrel-sized umbrella, please give me a call. My favorite color is red.)
We squirrels have about 2 - 5 babies at a time. Well, the females do. We guys don't have a lot to do with that. Don’t blame me — it’s a species thing! But those girls need a place to raise all those little guys. So again, the nest comes in handy. The females do all the baby care, so I don't know a lot about that. Only what I hear through the grapevine.
I hear that the babies are born naked (yuck!) and pink, and their eyes are closed. They weigh about half an ounce and are 2 inches long. Little buggers! Females like to have a nest all by themselves when they're nursing their babies. Sometimes females will change nests if they think their nest has been disturbed by another animal. When she moves, she'll pick up the babies and carry them by their tummies. The babies wrap their legs around mom's head. It's a pretty funny sight, but awfully cute.
Squirrel moms feed their babies really healthy milk, because they need to grow fast. Squirrel babies get milk for 8 - 12 weeks. They start growing fur around a week after they're born, and their eyes open around 5 weeks.
Babies stay with their mom until they're done nursing, and then they'll strike out on their own. But some like to stick around. They end up forming social groups, like playgroups, and help each other build nests, defend their areas, and stay warm when it's cold out.
Everyone gets thirsty, don't they? Squirrels need to drink too. We don't have many soda machines around, so we drink water. We get most of it from those juicy nuts and seeds we eat. But we also stop at puddles, ponds, and bird baths to get a drink. And, hey, might as well take a bath while we're already there! We can swim too, if it means we can get closer to food, or escape from some other animal that thinks we look like lunch. Have I mentioned I like to eat yet?!
If you're thinking of building a habitat for us, don't forget the water. It's horrible to have all those nut parts stuck in your teeth and not be able to get a good drink!
What do you mean that feeder isn't for me? Why would you put it there for anyone else?
Like I said before, we squirrels love to eat, and we need to eat a lot. So if you've got food set out in an easy place, we're there. Hey, it's fast food. Good quantity, not a lot of work. We're not going to pass it up. I don't know why so many birds are always trying to get at our food — but we'll scare them away. After all, we're bigger than they are!
And, yes, we're pretty smart. We can usually figure out how to climb up to most of those feeders you set out for us. It's good exercise. If you put up a baffle, we'll figure out how to jump over it, or to get to the feeder from a nearby tree branch. If you cut down the branches, we'll jump from other branches, or from the tree trunk. We can usually figure it out somehow.
Sometimes people have hung up slinkies on the feeder poles. Now, that's a challenge! Safflower seeds are not our favorites, so if you want — for some unknown reason — to feed birds, that's what you might consider feeding them. But remember, we'll eat just about anything. So if we're really hungry, even safflower seeds will be eaten. A squirrel’s gotta do what a squirrel’s gotta do!
It's never a dull moment around here in the schoolyard. A few weeks ago I watched a bunch of children plant native plants (those that usually grow here) in the early spring. Then they grew and blossomed, and now they have lots of pretty colored flowers. And flowers are great, but not as cool as the butterflies that are visiting them. They're red and yellow and orange and black and green and blue and gray. They flutter all around, from flower to flower. Sometimes we chase them, just for the fun of it!
Sometimes I like to run around and chase my buddies, or the girl squirrels. We chase each other to decide if we want to mate, or to practice running and jumping, or if one of us stole a nut from another one. Or sometimes we might even just do it for fun! We make lots of little barking sounds and wave our tails around too while we're at it. That helps the other squirrels know if we're just playing, or if we're seriously mad! I love to chase my buddies, and hey, it saves money on a gym membership.
I was busy collecting nuts today at the edge of the woods and I saw some of my neighbors scurrying about. Being nosy, I watched them for a while.
I saw a rabbit hopping in and out of the bushes. I don't know what she was doing, but probably finding food for even more babies. Those rabbits never seem to stop producing more babies!
I saw a red-breasted robin pulling a worm out of the ground. I'm not a big fan of the earthworm snack. A little too salty for me.
I saw a lot of ladybugs flitting about and landing on plants. I like to try to count their spots. Call me crazy.
And I saw a lot of crickets and grasshoppers hopping through the grass and plants. Then something really exciting happened. A little corn snake came out of nowhere and snatched up a cricket. Whoosh! Just like that. Those snakes are so lazy most of the time, just lying around on warm rocks. It sure can surprise you when they actually move somewhere.
Have you ever watched a turtle cross a road? It takes a long time! They are slow critters, aren't they? Especially compared to high-energy me!
But frogs, they are fun! Up on those skinny legs! Down, and up again — jump, jump, jump. They sure can jump far — and they eat tons of little insects.
I don't like rain. It's wet, for one thing. And my fur gets all damp and matted. And who likes that?! Then I get cold. I don't like to be cold.
So when it rains, I like to curl up in a little ball. No kidding. I find a couple of my nest buddies and we get to our nest as quickly as we can. It usually keeps out most of the rain. Then we can wrap our tails around ourselves and huddle together. That helps us keep warm.
But yeah, yeah — I know. Rain is really good for all those trees and flowers and everything in our habitats. And it makes nice little puddles for us to splash in and drink. So, I guess it's ok once in a while. Just keep those hurricanes away!
You have probably heard us talking to each other. I'm quite talkative, as you might have noticed. I make lots of little barking sounds. They sound like a lot like kuk, kuk and quaa quaa. I might be warning other squirrels to stay away from a nest, especially if there are babies inside. Or I might see a predator — a hawk, for example. Or a bunch of human teenagers. Argh! I bark for all those reasons.
Babies also call to their mothers, if they're hungry or feel like they're in danger. We also call if we're trying to find a mate. And no, I'm not going to ask you your sign. (I’m a Taurus, in case you were wondering.)
I use other ways to communicate as well. If I'm feeling aggressive or angry, you might see me flicking my tail back and forth very fast. That's a signal that I'm not a happy camper and it’s best to stay away. I also stomp my feet to make the point even stronger. You could call it Skippy’s Bad Mood Dance.
(Skippy art by Dave Clegg)
To meet some of Skippy's friends from around the country, visit the following links:
Northern Flying Squirrel (eNature.com®)
Southern Flying Squirrel (eNature.com®)
Abert's Squirrel (eNature.com®)
Eastern Fox Squirrel (eNature.com®)
Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel (eNature.com®)
California Ground Squirrel (eNature.com®)
Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel (eNature.com®)