By Sam Nunes, Environmental Educator
In November, the leaves have almost fully fallen and nature seems to have become quiet as it waits for the cold winter snow. Around this time you may notice a peculiar bundle of sticks and leaves revealed in the branches of the trees. It looks like a rather large bird nest, but the animal that created this home does not have wings.
The architects of these structures are squirrels. Squirrels have two types of nests. Their preferred nest is an abandoned woodpecker cavity which offers more protection from predators and the elements. When those cavities are not available, the squirrels construct large nests, called dreys, in which to raise their offspring. These nests look similar to crow nests in size and shape. What distinguishes squirrel nests from crow nests is that squirrels like to add leaves to the structure; crows simply use small twigs intertwined together.
Since they are so often on the move, it is not uncommon for squirrels to have multiple nests. They tend to use them solo but, in the winter when it is cold and mating is beginning, a pair will nest together to raise young and conserve body heat.
Squirrels play an important role in the environment. Many trees have been planted as a result of squirrel stashes being forgotten. After burying thousands of acorns and other seeds, a squirrel is bound to forget a few. Digging through soil to bury seeds helps to aerate the soil. They also eat harmful insects such as tree infesting beetles and lawn damaging grubs. And lastly, just as they use nests previously made by other species, other species also use their abandoned nests. As with all native creatures, nature benefits from the presence of these furry friends just as it does with each important puzzle piece making up our ecosystem