Just a tawny glimmer, a dash of red and gray,(Comstock 232)
Was it a flitting shadow, or a sunbeam gone astray!
It glances up a tree trunk, and a pair of bright eyes glow
Where a little spy in ambush is measuring his foe.
I hear a mocking chuckle, then wrathful, he grows bold
And stays his pressing business to scold and scold and scold.
Here in Oklahoma, we see a lot of squirrels in the late summer and early fall as they scurry around gathering food for the winter. If your neighborhood or property has a lot of trees, it will be easy to spot these creatures as they hurry about their work. In our great state, we see several different kinds of squirrels, but the two most common are the Eastern Fox Squirrel, which is a ruddy brown color, kind of like a fox, and the Eastern Grey Squirrel, which is mostly grey.
You’ll find many resources below to help you on your quest to learn new things about these furry creatures.
The Handbook of Nature Study
Have you heard of Anna Botsford Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study? It’s a fantastic book that covers all kinds of creatures, plants, and habitats. Since it has all sorts of resources in it, you should download it for free at https://www.google.com/books/edition/Handbook_of_Nature_study_for_Teachers_an/CjPbAAAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0
Anna Botsford Comstock talks about Squirrels on pages 233-239. Take a few minutes to read those pages, and then keep those ideas in mind as you and your kids watch for squirrels this month. That way, you may remember the answers for some of their questions, and you have another handy resource to check when you can’t.
There are two chapters on Squirrels in Thornton Burgess’s The Burgess Animal Book for Children. You can read or listen to chapters four and five at these links:
- Librivox: https://librivox.org/the-burgess-animal-book-for-children-by-thornton-w-burgess
- Amazon Kindle: https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B004TS08WO/
- Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/cu31924022526457/page/n15/mode/2up
- Six Stupendous Reasons to Appreciate Squirrels: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/six-snippets-squirrel-science/
- Squirrels Gone Wild: Their Quirky Behaviors Explained https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/10/squirrel-behavior-cache-fall-video-spd/
Observation and Research Questions:
1. Where have you seen a squirrel? Does the squirrel trot along or leap when running on the ground? Does it run straight ahead or stop at intervals for observation? How does it look? How does it act when looking to see if the “coast is clear”?
2. When climbing a tree, does it go straight up, or move around the trunk? How does it hide behind a tree trunk and observe the passer-by? Describe how it manages to climb a tree? Does it go down the tree headfirst? Is it able to climb out on the smallest branches? Of what advantage is this to it?
3. Look closely and see if a squirrel follows the same route always when passing from one point to another. How does it pass from tree to tree? How does it act when preparing to jump? How does it hold its legs and tail when in the air during a jump from branch to branch?
4. Describe the colors of the red squirrel above and below. Is there a dark stripe along its side; if so, what color? How does the color of the squirrel protect it from its enemies? Is its color brighter in summer or in winter? How are the squirrel’s eyes placed? Do you think it can see behind as well as in front all the time? Are its eyes bright and alert, or soft and tender?
5. Are its legs long or short? Are its hind legs stronger and longer than the front legs? Why? Why does it not need long legs? Do its paws have claws? How does it use its paws when eating and in making its toilet? Describe or sketch the tracks made by the squirrel in the dirt.
6 Describe the squirrel’s tail. Is it as long as the body? Is it used to express emotion? Of what use is it when the squirrel is jumping? Of what use is it in the winter in the nest?
7. What is the food of the squirrel during the autumn? Winter? Spring? Summer? Where does it store food for the winter? Does it steal food laid up by jays, chipmunks, mice, or other squirrels? How does it carry nuts? Has it cheek-pouches like the chipmunk for carrying food? Does it stay in its nest all winter living on stored food like a chipmunk? How does the squirrel get at the meats of the hickory nut and the walnut? How are its teeth arranged to gnaw holes in such hard substances as shells?
8. Where does the red squirrel make its winter home? Does it also have a summer home? If so, of what is it made and where built? In what sort of a nest are the young born and reared? At what time of the year are the young born? How does the mother squirrel carry her little ones if she wishes to move them? How much of squirrel language can you understand? How does it express surprise, excitement, anger, or joy during the nut harvest? Note how many different sounds it makes and try to discover what they mean.
The Poem, Information, and Questions paraphrased from The Handbook of Nature Study for Teachers and Parents by Anna Botsford Comstock