NORTHERN RED SQUIRREL
THE NORTHERN RED SQUIRREL is a tree dweller closely related to, and about the size of the common red squirrel in the eastern United States. It is an inhabitant of the spruce woods of Alaska and northern Canada and sometimes is called "spruce" squirrel. The hearty "chir-r-r" of this little animal adds greatly to the charm of these silent forests. It remains active in winter as well as in summer and is especially appreciated when the trees are deeply covered with snow.
A close view shows that this animal has a striking white ring around each eye, also a flat plumelike tail which is almost as long as the body. Its claws are sharp, curved, and well adapted for tree climbing. In summer, the back of this squirrel is a vivid brick red and it is this distinctive character that gives the animal its common name; the under parts are yellowish white. The ears are slightly tufted in winter but in summer these tufts are lost. This animal has a total length of about 12-1/2 inches; tail, 4-1/2 inches.
In winter, their spherical nests of shredded bark, fibrous roots, and moss are placed in a sheltered spot, usually well up in a tree. One nest that I examined was more than a foot in diameter and had walls 4 inches thick. An entrance hole in the side of this nest led to a snug warm inner cavity, lined and insulated with caribou hairs and ptarmigan feathers.
As the northern red squirrel does not hibernate, it must lay up a winter food supply. Before the spruce cones are open in the fall, these little rodents cut off hundreds of these cones and store them in their winter cupboard in the damp cavity of a stump or beneath a log. Here they are preserved, unopened by the moisture and cold. Dried mushrooms and other choice titbits also are carefully tucked away in crevices or in between the main trunk and some branch of a tree. I once watched one of these squirrels drive a pair of Alaska jays, commonly known as "camp robbers," away from a certain spruce tree. Five minutes after the jays departed, the squirrel cautiously removed a piece of old mouldy cheese that it had stolen from our camp and carefully rehid it in a new place so the jay would not find it. The spruce trees provide food, shelter, and a safe home for these little animals throughout the cold, snowy months.
Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010