Abert's squirrels are unique mammals found anywhere in the monument where there are enough Ponderosa pine trees to supply their nutritional needs. Identified by their dark gray backs with a red-brown patch, white bellies, and long fluffy white tails the most destinctive feature of Abert's squirrels are their big tufted ears. Abert's squirrels feed on the cones, buds, and twigs of Ponderosa pine trees as well as fungus and tree sap. With no apparent fear of heights, they can often be seen high in trees scurrying from branch to branch looking for food.
Abert's squirrels favorite food is the cones of the Ponderosa Pine. They will turn the cone slowly, much like you may rotate an ear of corn as you eat it, peeling away the cone scales to reach the meaty seeds. The new buds and inner bark of the Ponderosa are also quickly consumed by the squirrel. You may think this would be bad for the Ponderosa, however, Abert's also eat ectomycorrhizal fungi. A byproduct of this feeding activity spreads the spores of the fungi around. As it turns out this fungi is very beneficial to the survival of the Ponderosa and the Abert's squirrel serve a vital function in the proliferation of the fungi. The relationship between plant and animal is very interesting and complex.
Abert's Squirrels and Mule Deer
The eating habits of Abert's squirrels also prove beneficial to mule deer. When the squirrels eat the buds and shoots of the Ponderosa pine they chew off whole twigs. The uneaten portion they drop to the ground many feet below. You can tell where Abert's squirrels have been active by the debris below the Ponderosa pines. The mule deer seem to relish this tree-top treat and quickly consume the messy Abert's trash.
Squirrel Nests, Not Bird Nests
Abert's squirrels build nests high up in Ponderosa pine trees. The nests look similar to a large, messy bird nest. The Abert's collect plant materials including pine duff to line their lofty abode and create a warm, snuggly home. Here, in late spring or early summer, female Abert's give birth to their tiny, pink hairless babies. Young Abert's emerge from these sanctuaries by August and begin to collect food for the winter along side their parents.
A Summer Coat