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When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.
– Henry Ford  
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  Volume No. 17 Issue No. 5 May 2020  

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Bill Radford

  Squirrels of the prairie
  By Bill Radford

   Longtime local journalist Bill Radford and his wife, Margaret, live on 5 acres in the Falcon area with chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, two noisy parrots, goats and two horses. Contact Bill at billradford3@gmail.com.
It was in mid-November that Jacobb Leary shared his find on Nextdoor, the social networking service for neighborhoods.
   
   "So, this morning dogs were going crazy out back so I went to check on them and they were trying to kill a squirrel," he posted. "I'm kind of lost for words because I didn't think we had squirrels out here. I know we have ground squirrels but not the ones that live in the trees."
   
   In his 13 years in the Southfork neighborhood, Leary had never seen a tree squirrel there. After all, how can you have tree squirrels when you don't have many trees?
   
   I've missed the sight of squirrels since we moved to the prairie. When we lived in Colorado Springs, we lived on a heavily treed lot, so squirrels were common. Sometimes too common, since they transformed the treehouse I had built for our kids into a squirrel house, chewing away all the dry wall along with holes in the exterior. (And then there was the frozen dead squirrel that fell out of a tree onto my then-young son's head one winter morning, a tale that became the stuff of family legend.)
   
   So I was surprised, too, that tree squirrels were hanging out in this area.
   
   But Sarah Watson, a wildlife officer with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, is not surprised. I had sent her the photo that Leary had posted of his squirrel find, and she noted there were a couple of trees in the background. And that's all tree squirrels need, she said.
   
   "If there are any sort of trees around, they'll be there," she said. "They don't need a ton of trees."
   
   Watson also sent me a list of the squirrels known to live in El Paso County. The types of tree squirrels include Abert's, fox and pine squirrels. The ground squirrels include golden mantle ground squirrels, spotted ground squirrels, rock squirrels and lined ground squirrels.
   
   I went online to learn more about the three types of tree squirrels. Abert’s squirrels, according to the National Park Service, have dark gray backs with a red-brown patch, white bellies and long fluffy white tails. Their most distinctive features are their large ears topped with tassels of fur.
   
   The pine squirrel is a "small-bodied tree squirrel" that is "generally red to tawny to gray on the dorsum with a white venter; its tail is frosted with buff or white," according to a description by the U.S. Forest Service. The fox squirrel (its scientific name is Sciurus niger) has a rusty belly and a very bushy tail, which seems to be the type Leary saw. It's not native to Colorado and is labeled a "nuisance squirrel" by many. "Abert’s squirrels (S. aberti) in the Black Forest of Colorado have experienced a population decline attributed to competition with introduced S. niger," warned the online Invasive Species Compendium.
   
   Their dietary habits vary a bit. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, "Fox squirrels eat fruit, nuts and buds; and bury nuts for winter (and because they are forgetful, they plant a lot of trees). Abert’s squirrel does not hoard food, but eats whatever part of its host tree, ponderosa pine, is available in season: cones and the inner bark of twigs. Pine squirrels harvest and store vast quantities of cones (spruce, fir, Douglas fir and lodgepole pine) often beneath a feeding area."
   
   Interestingly, pine squirrels are the smallest North American tree squirrel and occupy the highest altitudes in Colorado, while fox squirrels are the smallest North American tree squirrel and live at the lowest altitudes in the state, according to "A comparison of Abert squirrels, pine squirrels and fox squirrels with respect to life in the cold,” by Justin Thorson of the University of Colorado-Boulder.
   
   If you were wondering what happened to the squirrel Leary found, it seems to have come out of its encounter with his dogs OK.
   
   "I came out the back door to see them both jumping and trying to catch it," he said in an email."Got the dogs inside after a minute or so and then would check to see if the squirrel was still out there. The squirrel stayed on that same post for a few hours with its tail up over its head. The kids finally got off of the bus around 4:10 that afternoon, and I asked them to go check and it was finally gone. So, it was there for probably five to six hours."
   
   Some people, of course, don't care for squirrels, which can take up residence in your attic or keep birds from your bird feeder. But if you're a fan, this is the month to reach out to other squirrel supporters: Jan. 21 is National Squirrel Appreciation Day. Christy Hargrove, a wildlife rehabilitator from North Carolina, created a day for squirrels so that people could “learn about and celebrate the world's cutest rodents.”
  
Jacobb Leary took this photo of a tree squirrel in the backyard of his home in the Southfork development in the Falcon area.
 
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