NATURE NARRATIVES: The talkative Chickaree squirrel

By Melissa Walker
       Few people can hike through our mountain forests without being scolded by a pine squirrel. Also called a chickaree, this little gray squirrel is very noisy and territorial.

A chickaree squirrel with a pinecone.
Bret Tennis photo

       The chickaree gnaws through the cones of ponderosa, spruce and fir trees to reach its preferred food - conifer seeds. Similar to the way you and I eat corn-on-the-cob, the squirrel holds the pinecone between its front paws. Then it turns the cone as it chews off the woody bracts all the way down to the pinecone's core. Between the bracts, it finds the nutritious seeds.
       Usually the squirrel has a favorite feeding tree where it eats and then drops leftover pinecone pieces. The shredded cones at the base of its feeding tree may accumulate into huge piles, called middens, that are sometimes several feet across and over two feet deep. Very large middens are evidence that several generations of chickarees have used the same feeding tree for decades.
       In summer and fall, the chickaree gathers pinecones and buries them in the midden to serve as its winter and early spring food supply. On cold winter days, the well-prepared squirrel retrieves and eats a few of its stored cones.
       As you walk or picnic in the higher elevations of our Colorado Springs mountain parks and open spaces - Garden of the Gods, Red Rock Canyon, Section 16 or North Cheyenne Caņon - look for a chickaree's midden at the base of an evergreen tree. And if you hear a chattering squirrel long before you can see it, no doubt it is a chickaree.

Walker is an area naturalist. Her blog is at Article used with permission.