Thursday, February 10, 2011

Help Out Your Furry Friends

Squirrel after the Blizzard

For wildlife, snow and cold can mean disaster or opportunity

For squirrels, the blizzard came at a delicate time: the heart of their first mating season, which usually is from the last week of January through the first few weeks of February.

"This is the time of year they're feeling frisky," said Joel Brown, a biological sciences professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Squirrels, like quails, will be most affected by prolonged snow cover and an inability to find their widely dispersed, buried food caches. People can tell squirrels are desperate if they start eating tree bark, Brown said.

Younger, smaller squirrels will die in larger numbers, with those born last fall the first to go in a harsh winter.

"They're young, and they're too late," Brown said. "They get the smallest food caches and have the least body fat and don't have the experience of adults."

Because of the blizzard, squirrel mortality will be more concentrated rather than spread over several weeks.

Squirrels face additional danger when they dig for food in the snow because they are more exposed to predators like hawks and eagles, Brown said.

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