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Understanding Squirrels in Canada: A Comprehensive Guide to Ground, Tree, and Flying Squirrels


With their playful antics and acrobatic performances, squirrels are a common sight across Canada, from Western Alberta to the Rocky Mountains, from colder climates to temperate latitudes. However, their presence across this great land is wider than entertainment. These creatures play a significant role in the ecosystem, and understanding their habits and habitats is crucial for coexisting harmoniously. This article delves into the diverse world of squirrels in Canada, focusing on ground squirrels, tree squirrels, flying squirrels, squirrel burrows, and squirrel populations and offering insights into their unique characteristics and behaviours.



Different Squirrels of the World


Squirrels are one of the most fascinating mammalian species in the world, with the North American ground squirrel and the European ground squirrel (genus Spermophilus) being particularly diverse, with over 80 species of ground squirrels scattered across the globe. These rodents are beloved by many for their cute appearance, adorable antics, and playful personalities. They live in various habitats ranging from forests to deserts to rocky habitats to grasslands; some burrow underground while others build nests high up in trees. Even more interesting is that despite being preyed upon by predators such as foxes, owls, and snakes, many squirrel populations remain classified as "least concern" regarding conservation status. With funny, unusual names like the California ground squirrel, the African ground squirrel (Genus Xerus), the Barbary ground squirrel, the Columbian ground squirrel, the Arctic ground squirrel, the Holarctic ground squirrel, the Richardson’s ground squirrels and Franklin's ground squirrel, it's no wonder why these creatures enthrall people. They’re mostly active year-round, except for some of the hibernating species of ground squirrels, which have an underground burrow to keep them warm. And did you know that prairie dogs are cousins of the squirrel? It shows how diverse and fascinating the world of rodents can be.



The Diverse Family of Squirrels in Canada


The family of squirrels in Canada is incredibly diverse, boasting over 20 unique species with distinct characteristics and behaviours. Whether they have their burrow entrance deep within the grassy areas to build their nests or leap across the trees for food, these squirrels have adapted to thrive in Canada's colder climates. Additionally, during the inclement weather in the winter months, they've learned to rely on their social interactions to survive; they store food, often sharing nests and supplies with other members of their species. Despite their differences, all of these squirrels share a deep connection with the natural environment, and it's incredible to see how each species has uniquely shaped its behaviour to interact with it. Canada is home to 22 species of squirrels, categorized into three primary groups: ground squirrels, tree squirrels, and flying squirrels, although in Ontario, the most common type is the tree squirrel. None of them here in Ontario are threatened or endangered species, as squirrel populations are thriving in Canada. Each group exhibits distinct nesting preferences and behaviours, shaping their interaction with the natural environment and human habitats.



Ground Squirrels: Masters of the Underground


Ground squirrels are masters of the underground, often preferring subterranean living over climbing trees like their arboreal counterparts. Ground squirrels are active during the day and sleep at night. With their larger feet adapted for digging, they are experts in creating intricate tunnel systems and multiple entrances for shelter, they store food, and hibernation. In the colder climates ground squirrels hibernate, hibernation is a significant aspect of their lifecycle, allowing them to survive the local climate and harsh winter months. The Arctic ground squirrel, found in parts of the Arctic Circle and Northern B.C., is the only mammal that can regulate their body temperature below freezing. Ground squirrels hibernate, and then after hibernation, adult males emerge first, usually between 8-16 days before the females. But in some warmer areas in the world, ground squirrels are active all year long. While they may be less common in residential areas like Ontario, their close relatives, chipmunks with little short legs, often make their presence known by burrowing in gardens and beneath patios. Their strong hind legs and exceptional burrowing skills make them fascinating animals to observe, especially in their natural habitats. Abandoned burrows also provide shelter to creatures such as voles, moles, mice, and other vertebrates like garter snakes and frogs. Many people would want us to do away with the squirrels altogether, but that would have drastic repercussions - for example, the red-tailed hawk, and also ferruginous hawks (which were on the endangered list at one time), rely on ground squirrels at a major source of food.



The Tree Squirrel: The Acrobats of the Forest


If you've ever taken a walk through the forest and spotted a tree squirrel, you know how mesmerizing these little creatures can be. With their acrobatic skills, it's no wonder they're sometimes called the gymnasts of the forest. You might see them leaping from branch to branch, performing impressive parkour moves with ease. Don't let their small size fool you - these squirrels are active during the day and year-round, always on the hunt for food to store away for later. While they call the forest home, they're equally comfortable in urban areas, where they've been known to invade attics for warmth and shelter. All in all, tree squirrels are a fascinating species to observe and study, with their agility and resourcefulness making them a true wonder of the natural world.



The Flying Squirrel: The Night Gliders


While unable to technically fly, the North American flying squirrel manages to soar through the trees with ease. These tiny creatures glide between the branches using a unique stretch of skin between their limbs known as a patagium. Due to their nocturnal habits, however, spotting one of these little night gliders is no easy feat. They rarely venture outside during the day, only emerging at night to forage for food and avoid the other animals that may pose a threat. While they may not be endangered, flying squirrels still face major threats from habitat loss and hunting, making their secretive lifestyle all the more necessary for survival. Despite their name, flying squirrels do not fly but glide between trees using a patagium—a fold of skin stretched between their limbs. These nocturnal creatures are seldom seen due to their nighttime activity and never venture onto the ground by choice. Their unique mode of locomotion and nocturnal habits set them apart from their ground and tree-dwelling relatives.



Baby Squirrels


Baby squirrels are born naked and blind, with their little short legs and no fur, making them incredibly vulnerable to predators. As newborns, their eyes are closed, and they rely solely on their mother for survival. Interestingly, squirrels don't just have one litter of babies a year. They mate twice a year, generally giving birth between February and April and then again in late June to August. Gestation lasts only 38-46 days, so momma squirrel must be ready at a moment's notice. Squirrels, found mainly in the North American landscape, are incredibly complex and have many social interactions with other squirrels. This only adds to the importance of mom protecting her babies during these crucial early days.



Mating Season for Squirrels


Squirrels may be small animals, but they have a big breeding season! These furry little creatures have two mating seasons yearly, one from December through February and another from late June into August. During these seasons, an adult male squirrel will have to compete with other males for the attention of available adult females, often chasing each other and scampering from tree to tree. The mating process takes little time, with female squirrels gestating their young for just under two months. From there, baby squirrels are usually born in the spring or late summer, ready to emerge into the wide world with all their squirrelly curiosity and energy. Observing these lively creatures during mating season is a real treat!



Navigating Human-Squirrel Interactions


Squirrels scampering about, gathering acorns and frolicking in the trees can be an endearing sight. But when they chew their way into your attic and make themselves at home, it's a different story. Tree squirrels are active year-round and depend on natural resources in their home range to survive. Unfortunately, sometimes that includes your attic. Squirrel populations can quickly become a problem when they invade our living spaces, putting their sharp teeth to work on anything they can find. They can cause significant damage and even pose a fire hazard if they chew through wires. Understanding squirrel behaviour, including their potential for entering homes to have babies, is crucial in effectively navigating interactions with these cute but pesky critters.



Squirrel Control and Exclusion Techniques


Squirrels may seem like harmless backyard critters, but they can quickly become a nuisance when they invade your home. That's where professional squirrel control services come in. Experienced technicians offer humane and effective solutions that not only safeguard your property but also protect the animals. Through thorough inspections, technicians can identify entry points and implement exclusion techniques like wire screens and one-way doors to keep squirrels out. If baby squirrels are found, they are carefully removed to prevent harm. In addition, these pest-proofing services are backed by warranties, providing long-term protection against future invasions. Affordable wildlife control is possible with the help of these experts; for homeowners facing squirrel invasions, professional squirrel control services offer humane and effective solutions.



Conclusion


Canada's wildlife would not be complete without the cute and quirky squirrels we often encounter daily. From different species to unique characteristics, these bushy-tail creatures never fail to amaze us with their lively presence. Ground, tree, and flying squirrels have their behaviour and preferences. Did you know that adult female squirrels have a gestation period of around 44 days and that burrow entrance sizes depend on the gender and size of the squirrel? However, if squirrels are causing an issue, there's no need to fret. Professional wildlife control services offer humane solutions to live in harmony with these separate species. By understanding their differences and behaviours, we can appreciate squirrels for the fascinating creatures they truly are.

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