The Round Place
One day, as I was watching the fox squirrel with
the black head and the brown body, it cleared off a
place that was probably about 12 - 14 inches in diameter.
It scratched around as if it was burying something around
the edge. When it had cleared away all of the pine straw
and leaves, leaving only the dirt, it began to roll and tumble
on the spot. When it had rolled and flipped for a while, it
scratched a small hole.
Since then, I have seen this same behavior over and over by several of the squirrels on the same place. Some of
them rolled and tumbled longer than others. In addition, often they will jump up into the air over and over.
After about four months, I noticed that several of the fox
squirrels had established a second round place about 30 feet away
from the first round place.
They have also remodeled the first round spot as well as adding five new spots. These spots are now scattered all
around the yard.
I know there is a purpose for this behavior though I have not discovered it. To me, since the fox squirrel is such a
solitary animal, it is strange that they all use the same spots.
As I have thought about the spot and wondered about its purpose, I have come up with several ideas.
1. Perhaps it is a method of scratching their back because of an itch caused by mites or parasites.
2. Perhaps it is a way of cleansing their fur (dusting).
3. Perhaps they are simply playing as I have watched them dig in the ground as well as jump into the air.
4. I have observed them dragging themselves across the ground and I wondered if they are marking the ground with
their musk. However, I have observed a female dragging itself on the spot and I don't think females mark spots.
I sent an email to Dr. Peter D. Weigl who participated in an eight year study (*) of the fox squirrel, asking him about
this behavior. In his reply he said the behavior is called "anting." He indicated that there is a nest of small ants
nearby and that the squirrels roll in these and the ants remove the parasites from the squirrel both directly and
chemically. The ants also bite the squirrel at intervals, causing them to jump. The experience seems to be a real
"turn on" for the squirrel. *For further information about fox squirrels, see THE ECOLOGY OF THE FOX SQUIRREL (SCIURUS
NIGER) IN NORTH CAROLINA: IMPLICATIONS FOR SURVIVAL IN THE SOUTHEAST, by Peter D. Weigl, Michael A. Steele, Lori J.
Sherman, James C. Ha, and Terry L. Sharpe. Bulletin #24 of Tall Timbers Research Station, Route 1, Box 678, Tallahassee, Florida
Fox Squirrel's Diet.
When thinking about what the fox squirrels eat, I am tempted to say they eat anything, though I know that is not true. I
have watched them eat new buds from maple trees as well as seed from pine cones.
They love the grain that the birds scratch out of my bird feeder. One of them has even learned how to hang on the
trellis that holds the bird feeder and pull up on the bird feeder in order to shake more seeds from the feeder. It then
rushes to the ground to eat its prize.
When they eat a grain of corn, they eat the soft white section of the grain. They will eat the soft white part of every
grain of corn before they eat the hard part of the grain. It is amazing how quickly they can eat the soft part of the
grain. Because of their long claws, the fox squirrel does not hold the food in its paws, but holds it between the pads
that are located below the claws (like a stubby thumb).
As the fox squirrel chews, its ears move in and out, toward each other and then away from each other. They have
the ability to carry off a whole ear of corn; not only to carry it off, but to carry it up into a tree.
It seems that as the squirrels move about they will
stop and chew on anything that strikes their fancy from
pieces of limbs to leaves and plants.
Sometimes, - and I say sometimes, they will share
the place where they eat, though most of the time the fox
squirrel that is eating will chase away any challengers
to his food.
|Spot now somewhat larger with a
number of holes scratched in it.
I have seen them dig small weeds out
of the ground and then eat the roots.
They seem to like small fruit, like
grapes, as well as various kinds of nuts.
|I also see them eating mushrooms which grow
in my yard as well as in the woods.
I have even seen one squirrel hanging
onto the bar where the birds stand,
eating directly out of the bird feeder.
|Since the bottle brush plant has begun to bloom, it
appears that they like the nectar from the flower. They
Stomping the Ground.
me of "one for the money, two for the show, three to make ready, four to go."
They run with a bounce. After covering a short distance, they will stop, look around, often standing very tall on their
hind legs, before continuing to run. Often, this stopping procedure is about every three to four feet. However, if they
are frightened, they will run for safety as fast as possible. When it stands up tall on it's hind legs, it folds its upper
paws and looks as if it could walk on two legs if it would simply take a step.
The fox squirrel is a playful animal. It seems to me that the only interaction with other fox squirrels, other than
mating, is when they chase each other around in the trees and through the woods.
It is interesting to watch them play. Many times they play alone.
They roll and tumble as well as do flips. Many of their flips are done
around a stick or some other object. When they jump straight up, it
reminds me of the cat in the cartoon that jumps straight up at a
loud sound. When they play together, they often seem to wrestle. But
it is interesting that they will be playing together when, suddenly, one or
the other will simply go their separate way. At times, I think play and the
search for food are combined. They seem to be flipping and jumping when suddenly they stop, scratch around on
the ground and come up with something to eat.
As I stand in the yard and look into the woods, I can see more that a half dozen fox squirrel nests near the edge of
the woods. The nests look like they are poorly constructed, leaf and twig nests. I find small pieces of pine limbs
that are probably from nest construction. I suspect that some of the small limbs result from feeding. One nest is in
an oak tree while all of the other nests are in pine trees. I have actually seen at least three of the nests in use.
I very seldom hear the fox squirrel making any sounds. I hear them make what I would call a growling sound, a shrill
chatter at others when they are feeding. It is a warning sound which seems to me to be their way of saying "this is
mine, stay away." It is a quarreling sound associated with aggressive behavior including running at other fox
squirrels with sound, and their tail flicking up and down.
I also have seen and heard them barking and chattering. I have seen them aggressively running up a tree, stop,
bark, and then let out a lot of chatter. I have noticed that the barking is accompanied with flicking of the tail. The
tail flicks and the bark is made. I have also seen them sitting on a limb, barking and chattering. It seems when I
have seen them barking, they are very excited. It is interesting to me that the other squirrels seem not to pay any
attention to the barking and chattering. They just stretch out on a limb, not even lifting their heads.
|I feed them corn and sunflower seed. They take the corn off the cob one grain at a time,
from top to bottom, although there is one squirrel that starts at the bottom and eats to the top.