One prolific type of park inhabitant are squirrels found in Canada's urban communities, woods and parks. This is a photo of the Red Squirrel in Eurasia. This species of squirrel is on the near threatened list and is protected in most of Europe. The red squirrel used to be widely hunted for its pelt, and in Finland squirrel pelts were used as currency in ancient times, before the introduction of coinage.
My early associations with squirrels and chipmunks came during childhood trips to neighbouring woods or government parks. A trip to the Rockies always meant feeding peanuts to the chipmunks found in the wood piles near picnic sites.
Chipmunks have 25 species in North America and one in Europe. Although I looked, I did not find any material on a chipmunk I saw near Barrie, Ontario one summer. The striped markings on the back were the same as other chipmunks, but this one had white dots between the lines on its back.
Squirrels are common in Toronto, adapting well to urban neighbourhoods and parks. One species I have seen frequently in High Park and mistook for a red squirrel is the Fox Squirrel.
The Fox Squirrel is the largest species of tree squirrels native to North America with their natural range extending throughout the eastern United States, excluding New England, the southern prairie provinces of Canada and introduced to southwestern Ontario, west to the Dakotas, Colorado and Texas. They thrive best among trees such as oak, hickory, walnut and pine that produce winter-storable foods, nuts.
Black squirrels are a melanistic phase of the Eastern Grey Squirrel, and are commonly found in Toronto’s urban areas and parks.
Canada’s Eastern Grey Squirrel was introduced into Great Britain and are now being culled in order that the Red Squirrels may increase their population.
American Red Squirrels are widely distributed across North America wherever conifers are common, except on the Pacific coasts where they are replaced by Douglas squirrels. Recently American Red Squirrels have been expanding their range to include primarily hardwood areas.
An important factor with feeding squirrels peanuts was revealed in Wikipedia:
“Urban squirrels have learned to get a great deal of food from over-generous humans. One of the more common and inexpensive foods fed to squirrels is peanuts. Recent studies however have shown that raw peanuts contain a trypsin inhibitor that prevents the absorption of protein in the intestines, therefore offering peanuts that have been roasted is the better option. However, wildlife rehabilitators in the field have noted that neither raw and roasted peanuts or sunflower seeds are good for squirrels, since they are deficient in several essential nutrients. This type of deficiency has been found to cause Metabolic Bone Disease, a somewhat common ailment found in malnourished squirrels.”
For feeding my neighbourhood birds and squirrels I tend to use the collected remains of the discarded seed my lovebirds and senegals leave. Often it is only a bite or a few nibbles from a peanut, walnut, almond or the complete feed pellets; and after being spread upon the ground outside it is often gone by the next day.
Photo Credits: Red Squirrel, Fox Squirrel by Wikipedia; Chipmunk by Gilles Gonthier CC=flickr; Black Squirrel by Arthur Chapman CC=nc-sa-flickr; Eastern Gray Squirrel by quaelin CC=nc-nd-flickr; American Red Squirrel by Gilles Gonthier CC=flickr.
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