Where Do Squirrels Go When It Snows?
Ron Karpinski ©2000
A single beam of sunlight warms the base of a Giant Sequoia tree twenty yards from our kitchen window. Basking in the glow, two squirrels chase each other round the reddish-brown trunk. They are not aware that I am watching.
Out in front, a coal black one scurries lightly across the bark, darting left and right. Inches behind, a slightly larger red one mimics each move. In a blur, the two squirrels race to the far side of the thick tree, hidden from view.
When they reappear a few seconds later, positions have changed. Now the red one has the lead. It leaps to the ground, and the other follows; they bound through the thick grass in long graceful leaps, springing lightly off the soft turf.
It is well into autumn, but the two fluffy rodents seem oblivious to the coming winter. In a few short weeks, the weather will turn cold. Snow will blanket the small meadow, and the squirrels will disappear until spring.
The question begs to be asked. Where do squirrels go when it snows? How do they stay warm and dry, when icy winds howl and sleet fills every crack and crevice? Can their fur alone protect them from the cold?
A recent television documentary claimed that squirrels, like birds, build nests in trees; but how much of what they show on television is real, anyway? Nothing the size or shape of a squirrel nest is visible in our neighboring Sequoia tree.
That tree is a good hundred feet tall. If squirrels do live up there, the exact location is a well-guarded secret. When they head for home at the end of the day, they simply streak up the side of the tree and vanish among its branches.
Where else could they live? Deciduous trees are bare in winter. Any nest up there would be easy to spot. Other fir trees in our meadow are too young and spindly to bear the weight of a squirrel lodge.
Even if the squirrels were nestled in some hidden hollow of the Giant Sequoia, they would get hungry in the dead of winter, wouldn't they? Their little stomachs would growl, and they would climb down from the tree in search of food.
They would dig up some of the nuts they buried in summer and eat them. Otherwise, why bury the nuts in the first place? Rooting around for the nuts, the squirrels would leave tracks in the snow, wouldn't they?
Months of observation have yielded nothing. Winter has a firm grip on the small meadow, yet there are no nests in the trees and no tracks in the snow.
There can be only one explanation. Like the rest of the civilized world, squirrels must head south for the winter. Most likely, they sneak off in the middle of the night when no one can see them.