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Northland Nature: Red squirrels find safety under snow

The two feet or more of snow on the ground is a bit more than normal for mid February. Usually, the snowpack reaches its peak in the Northland during the month of March. January's near record snow fall has given us this cover a bit earlier this year.

The two feet or more of snow on the ground is a bit more than normal for mid February. Usually, the snowpack reaches its peak in the Northland during the month of March. January's near record snow fall has given us this cover a bit earlier this year. Critters that stay throughout the winter now need to cope with this snow if they are going to survive.

Red squirrels are abundant in the evergreen forest of the north. Frequently they live in the local mixed woods as well. When available, they move to bird feeders with their clever and larger cousins, the gray squirrels.

In the woods they take advantage of the present situation to live through the cold. Spruce trees hold abundant cones and these little arboreal rodents never seem to get tired of devouring cones and the seeds within. Often they leave a pile of scales under favored trees.

Being so at home in trees, it may seem as a bit of a surprise that they will just as readily tunnel through the snow. Within this cover, they find shelter, cached food, or maybe a place to sleep. Red squirrels may build nests as do the grays in tree tops, but also make use of tree hollows. If these places become dangerous or too cold, the little reds will come down from their leafy houses and go under the snow. Here, among roots of their home trees, they stay during chilly nights.

We should not be surprised if we see tunnels in our yards and woods made by these critters.

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The little energetic red squirrels have been with us all winter and they will continue to delight us for the rest of the cold season. Their ability to cope with winter may take them above or below the snowpack. Whether climbing or burrowing, the reds are a joy to watch.

Larry Weber is author of the "Backyard Almanac" and "Butterflies of the Northwoods." He lives in Carlton County and teaches natural science at Duluth's Marshall School.

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