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Sunday, 6 February 2011

Squirrel feeding signs - Norway Spruce

In the area I'm currently surveying, all the Red Squirrels I'm finding are feeding on Norway Spruce cones; which means they are heavily concentrated in these forest blocks. Old and new feeding is frequent and easy to find so I thought it would be a good opportunity to show some of the signs to look for.

First of all you need to identify trees with good cone crops and then you can start looking beneath them to see if squirrels are present. If you find a tree with cone remains scattered loosely around its base, together with a similar scattering of torn off scales as illustrated on the left,

you are most likely looking at evidence of squirrels feeding in the canopy.

Squirrels tend to do an untidy job of ripping off the scales and will almost always leave some scales untouched at the outer end of the cone. The cones will also change appearance over time and the second image illustrates this. The two cones on the left have darkened with age and may have been laying on the forest floor for several months whereas the two cones on the right are much lighter and cleaner looking and will have been worked on very recently.
The cone in the centre is a whole cone. typically 130 to 150 mm in length. 

Squirrels are also right or left handed and the third image shows two cones, one eaten by a left handed and the other by a right handed squirrel. This can be quite useful because if you find both types together on the ground you'll know that more than one animal has been there, and if the cones appear about the same age it may indicate a higher population density.

Another thing you might find is a cone which has been worked on by more than one squirrel. If you look closely at the next image you'll notice that the top third of the cone is lighter than the other two thirds because it was gnawed at a later date and on closer inspection you'll see that the second squirrel was opposite handed.

Another unusual feature of this cone is that it has been stripped clean of scales at both ends. Obviously the second squirrel hasn't read the field guides!

This cone and the cone shown in the last image on the left where both worked on the ground. This is shown by the tight cluster of scales immediately around both cones.

In another post I'll show the differences between mouse, vole and squirrel feeding signs.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.
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This web site is about the wildlife, particularly the mammals, of the Glen Affric National Nature Reserve area in the north west Highlands of Scotland, UK; and the equipment I use to search for them, which is chiefly trail cameras.

I provide a technical support and parts service for the Ltl Acorn range of cameras and the income from this provides for the upkeep of this site and the purchase of cameras for my own surveying.

I hope you find the site useful and informative; and please contact me if you have any questions that I haven't already covered.