Did you know that today is Squirrel Appreciation Day? Neither did I until I started seeing it pop up on my Twitter feed! Held on January 21 since 2001, Squirrel Appreciation Day was created by a wildlife rehabilitator from North Carolina named Christy Hargrove.
I’ve talked before about the prairie dog, a type of ground squirrel, which is extremely important to grassland ecosystems, including those found in Colorado, but other squirrels are just as important. Aside from providing prey for predators as diverse as snakes, coyotes, and hawks, they also help disperse plant seeds. When they cache food (store it for later, especially by burying), they don’t always remember where they put it and that gives plants, particularly trees, a chance to grow. Squirrels are essentially forgetful gardeners.
Colorado is home to a number of different squirrel species, which are generally divided into two categories: ground squirrels and tree squirrels. Not counting prairie dogs, there are six species of ground squirrel in Colorado:
- Thirteen-lined ground squirrel
- Spotted ground squirrel
- Golden-mantled ground squirrel
- Rock squirrel
- White-tailed antelope squirrel
- Wyoming ground squirrel
Ground squirrels occur across the state and they make their homes in burrows underground. Their diets mostly consist of seeds and fruits, but may also include nuts, flowers, or insects. Most hibernate during the winter. This conserves energy when food may be scarce.
The other category of squirrel is the tree squirrel. There are three species of tree squirrel in Colorado:
- Eastern fox squirrel
- Abert’s squirrel
- Pine squirrel
Tree squirrels primarily eat the seeds of trees such as acorns and pine cones. They also are active throughout the year and live in hollow trees or nests they construct in the branches of trees from sticks and leaves (called dreys).
Squirrels are amazing creatures and are fun to watch. We probably rarely think about them because of how common they are, so it’s good they have their own day to call attention to them.
It’s your day, squirrels, you do you!