Yellowstone’s winter can seem like it lasts forever. But as the days begin to get longer, a few signs that spring is on its way start to appear. Bears are seen around the geyser basins and the brilliant blue of the mountain blue bird flashes against the remaining snow pack. But of all the tell-tale signs, it is the emergence of Uinta ground squirrels that signals the new season is here.
Young and old visitors alike, spend countless hours entranced by the non-stop activity of Yellowstone’s most abundant small mammal. Uinta ground squirrels, race back and forth, fight and flip each other, only to come to a sudden stop, and raise-up on their hind legs for a better view.
Uinta squirrels seem to do everything in a hurry. Mating season begins as soon as hibernation ends in March or April. After a 28 day gestation, the babies are born. Young females have liters of 4 or 5, while older females have liters of 7 or 8.
When they are 24 days old, baby squirrels emerge from their dens and join the colony on the near endless pursuit of food. There is not much help from the adults after this.
Grasses, forbs, seeds, as well as insects and some carrion make up the majority of the Uinta ground squirrel’s diet. It is not uncommon to see them near roads and trails eating dead members of their own species.
Constant chirping alarms the colony of approaching predators.
Humans are the Uinta ground squirrel’s biggest danger. For some reason, we feel the need to feed wild animals. The food we give them doesn’t store as well as their natural foods and is often inedible by winter. Please, never feed wildlife. It’s not only bad for their health, but it’s also illegal.
By mid-July, it seems the summer is just getting going for humans, but for this squirrel, the year is about over. Just as quickly as they appeared in March, Uinta ground squirrels are gone. The next 8 months are spent hibernating and waiting, waiting to let us know that spring is back.