Photos credited to terisuz
Eastern Grey Squirrels are very important in the life-cycle of many trees and are major agents for reforestation in Canada and Eastern USA. They achieve this due to their habit of collecting nuts and hiding them. Nuts may be collected and hidden in caches in hollows in trees or buried in the ground so as to be retrieved later for food in winter.
Spikey introduced me to this behaviour. One autumn afternoon, the two of us were communing on the deck outside my basement apartment, enjoying the sunshine and sharing some peanuts. I was seated on my low folding chair and Spikey was a comfortable bound away eating his peanuts. Spikey is not a quiet nor neat eater. He makes a chattering noise with his teeth when he eats and reminds me of a buzz saw because as he eats a nut, you can see specks flying off from the side of his mouth.
Anyway, after apparently being sufficiently gorged, Spikey took a nut and hopped off on to the garden and scouted around for a nice place to bury the nut. This was always very entertaining. He would wander around, sniffing, and then deduce a prime location via some unknown squirrel wisdom and then proceed to bury the nut. This he does by basically ramming the nut into the soft soil using his upper body strength with his forearms stretched out. He would do this repeatedly, reminding me of a construction worker with a mechanized jack-hammer……rat-atat-tat-tat. Then he would come back to the pile of nuts and repeat the process.
Another interesting observation was that he would actually check if the nut was whole (just like the trained squirrels at Willie Wonka’s Chocholate Factory). If it was not whole or spoiled or chipped, he would eat it. Only complete, viable nuts are buried. This is very much in line with the squirrels’ role as tree planters.
Of course, in good years, a squirrel will plant more nuts than he can consume over winter. During winter and early spring, he will use his keen sense of smell to locate nuts and uncover them and eat them. Contrary to popular belief, he does not find them from memory nor does he keep a pirate’s treasure map as some of us with too much imagination might suggest. Nor does he uncover only his stash of nuts. In fact, squirrels uncover whatever they can find by smell and that is very often a nut buried by some other squirrel.
Finally, spring arrives and many nuts remained buried and forgotten and thus they have a chance to germinate and grow to be the next generation of forest trees. Many thanks to crazy squirrels with a bury a nut compulsion.