THE SIERRA CHICKAREE is a small tree squirrel with a total length of 13 inches including the tail which is 5 inches long. The tail is flat and bushy with a white or yellowish fringe around the margin. The ears are well developed and, in full coat, tipped with fairly long hairs. These hairs, however, are not as long as on the Kaibab and some other tufted-eared squirrels.
This species has two coats each yearone in summer and one in winter. In the summer coat, the upper part is dark brown with a tinge of red down the back. A black line extending along both sides separates the whitish or buffy under part from the brown back. There is a distinct white ring extending above, below, and behind the eyes.
The call of the chickaree is a short explosive note, repeated at frequent intervals, which may well be described as "quer-o." Often, when giving this quer-o call, the animal makes short spasmodic jumps and at times twitches its tail violently each time the note is uttered.
John Muir, the poet of the Sierra, had an outstanding love for this little squirrel, and his journals contain many references to it. In fact, its active nature and cheery call give life to the dark coniferous forest where it spends most of its life in the trees. Armed with sharp curved claws on all four feet, the chickaree is able to run rapidly up and down the vertical trunks of these trees with seemingly little effort.
Since many green cones that are cut are too large to carry, being almost as heavy as the animal itself, the chickaree makes every effort to find the nearest possible protection. In many instances the cone is dragged to the base of the nearest tree, where the squirrel can work on it at leisure.
The chickaree has many enemies. Since it remains active and runs about all winter when the ground is deeply covered with snow, hawks, owls, pine martens, and coyotes are among its more important natural enemies. On January 13, 1935, at Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park, after a seasonal snowfall of 33 inches had left the meadows covered with a deep blanket of white, I found a series of fresh marten tracks.
These had been made the previous night or early morning and showed that the marten had been stalking chickarees which, at that time, were actively running about, up and down and between the tree trunks. In traveling across the snow, the marten and chickarees both sank into it for a depth of 2 inches at each step.
Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010