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HOW MUCH WATER DOES A GRAY SQUIRRELS DRINK PER DAY?

       The majority of the birdbaths placed in Georgia backyards are intended to be used by birds. However, the truth of the matter is many other animals visit them. I think it would be safe to say the “other” animal most often seen at our feeders is the gray squirrel. With that in mind, have you ever wondered how much water a gray squirrel consumes in a day?

       It seems that, a gray squirrel needs two to three tablespoons of water per day, however, a number of factors affect the amount of water a squirrel drinks. For example, female gray squirrels nursing young require more water than squirrels not producing milk for their young.

       It is interesting to note that, on the average, a gray squirrel drinks twice per day.

BLACK BEARS AND BIRD FEEDERS — A RECIPE FOR TROUBLE

        Some 5,100 black bears live in the state of Georgia. While they are not what you would call backyard wildlife, during the warm months of the year, they are known to make forays into backyards in search of food. When this happens, it does not bode well for the bears or us.

       Although black bears are seen throughout the state, biologists have discovered Georgia is home to three distinct bear populations. One population calls the north Georgia mountains its home. A second population lives in central Georgia in the Ocmulgee River drainage. Another population roams in and around the vast Okefenokee Swamp in the southeast corner of the state.

       Naturally, those Georgians that live in or nearby any one of these populations has the greatest chance of having a bear show up in their yards. However, they can be seen in some unexpected locales such as urban areas like Atlanta and Macon. With that in mind, it is a good idea to know what you should do to discourage bears from visiting your yard.

       Most black bears appear in backyards looking for food. Being an omnivore a black bear can eat just about anything. Since the animal cam possess an excellent sense of smell, thoroughly clean outdoor grills after they have been used. Also, refrain from storing household garbage outside. Bears are drawn to the intoxicating scents of cooked meat and garbage.

       Bears are fond of pet food too. Consequently, if you feed your pets outside, don’t leave any uneaten food in the yard overnight.

       Bears also love birdseed and suet. It is understandable why they are drawn to these delicacies. Both foods contain lots of protein and fat. In areas where folks are regularly plagued with visits from hungry bears, it is recommended that feeders be taken in at night. If you face such a problem, it is a good idea to clean up all uneaten food that collects below the feeders. Some people even go to the trouble of spraying the ground beneath feeders with ammonia in hopes it will help eliminate the scent of the seeds.

       Once a bear locates a backyard that features bird feeders, it has found a bonanza. Where else can a bear gorge itself on a bounty of easily accessible food with little effort? Consequently, the bear will return as long as the food is available. The only way you can counter these feeding forays is to remove all potential food from your backyard. Even then, it may take some time before a bear moves on in its relentless search food. In its wake, it will likely leave you with damaged or missing feeders and bent poles that simply could not withstand the onslaught of a hungry bear.

       If you do happen to see a bear in your backyard, do not try to approach it. Bears are much stronger and faster than you are. On top of that, why in the world would you want to approach a wild animal that can weigh as much as 300 to 500 pounds anyway? If a bear feels threatened, you stand a chance of being hurt. Fortunately, there have only been two verified cases of bears attacking humans in the Southeast, and to my knowledge, they did not take place in a backyard.

       While the chances of a bear showing up in your yard are slim, many backyard bear encounters take place every year. If one does show up, make every effort to ensure this wild experience safe for you and the bear.

              For more information concerning bears, email the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division at http://www.georgiawildlife.com or BearWise at http://www.bearwise.org. BearWise is an educational program designed by bear biologists from all of the 15 state wildlife agencies in the Southeast.

UNWANTED NIGHTTIME VISITORS TO BIRD FEEDERS

       My wife and I have noticed the last birds to our seed feeders are typically cardinals.  Long after the chipping sparrows, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees and house finches have gone to roost male northern cardinals seem to glow in the fading light of the day.  Once the cardinals finally call it quits for the day, as much as we probably don’t like to think about it, a number of unwanted guests are apt to visit our feeders under the cloak of darkness.

       To some extent, which animals will visit our feeders depends on where you live in the Peach State.  For example, if you reside in North Georgia or a handful of other locations scattered around the rest of the state where black bears make their home, during the warmer months of the year you might have a visit from a black bear.

       For the rest of us, our feeders are more likely to be visited by rodents, raccoons, opossums, and white-tailed deer.  Believe it or not, coyotes and foxes are also known to frequent feeders at night.  In most cases, these animals are attracted to seeds that have been flipped out of feeders or scattered on the ground. That being the case, one of the best ways to discourage nocturnal visits by these furry critters is to clean up any seed left on the ground.  This task can be made less daunting by putting out only as much seed as your think the birds will eat during the day.

       Deer can often be thwarted by not feeding inexpensive seed mixtures that often contain corn.  Corn is a favorite deer food.

       If marauding bears are a problem, you will have to take your feeders down before sunset.  If you don’t, you stand the very real chance of having feeders destroyed our hauled off into the woods.

      Should you want to get some idea what is actually visiting your bird feeding area at night, install a motion-activated trail camera aimed at your feeders.  If you do, you may be amazed at what is going bump in the night just outside your backdoor.

GRAY SQUIRRELS ARE GREAT ATHLETES

      For those of us that enjoy feeding birds and other wildlife in our yards, it will come as no surprise that the gray squirrel is one of the most accomplished animal athletes living just outside our backdoor. Let’s take a quick look at a few examples of this animal’s remarkable athletic prowess.

       If a cat or dog surprises a gray squirrel while it is foraging for seeds beneath one of our feeders, it can run away from this domestic predator at a speed of 14 mph. Once it reaches a nearby tree it can then scamper up the tree at 12 mph.

       Gray squirrels are also great jumpers. They can leap six feet or more from one branch or tree to another. They can also vault a distance of 16 feet when dropping down from one limb to another. In addition, a squirrel can spring vertically at least five feet high. To put this accomplishment in perspective, if we had this ability, we could leap upward from a sidewalk to the top of a five-story building.

       Is it any wonder, gray squirrels are prospering amid all of the threats posed by humans and their pets in backyards, cities and towns across the Peach State?

BACKYARD SECRET: GRAY SQUIRRELS HAVE A UNIQUE WAY TO SHADE THEMSELVES FROM THE HOT SUN

          The gray squirrel uses its tail to help to help balance itself as it climbs and jumps from limb to limb, an even break its fall when is tumbles from a limb high above the ground.  Unbelievably on bright sunny days, the gray squirrel flips its bushy tail over its back and utilizes it as a parasol to keep the rays of the sun from overheating its body.

BACKYARD SECRET – LITTLE-KNOWN NEST PREDATORS

        Now that the nesting season is in full swing, the birds nesting in our backyards face formidable odds trying to fledge their young. As we all know, many nesting attempts end in failure due the fact predators eat both eggs and young.
       A list of the better-known nest predators includes crows, blue jays, raccoons, rat snakes, and opossums. However, there are a number of other animals that also eat eggs and/or nestlings. For example, would you believe deer mice, flying squirrels, and eastern chipmunks also raid bird nests?
      I find it amazing that cardinals, mockingbirds, bluebirds, and other backyard nesters are able to raise as many young as they do.

BE ON THE LOOK OUT FOR CLUES THAT SQUIRRELS ARE EATING MUSHROOMS

        The gray squirrel is one of the most common animals found in backyards across Georgia.  Indeed, it has proven to be able to coexist with humans. 

        One reason they flourish in our backyards is linked to the fact they are omnivores.  In other words, they can eat both animals and plants.  In fact, studies have shown they can consume upwards of 60 species of plants alone.  We all know they will eat anything from tomatoes to various nuts, berries, buds and the like.  In addition, they will also eat mushrooms.

        Recently while walking about my backyard on an unseasonably balmy winter afternoon, I happened across evidence that a gray squirrel had recently been dining of a mushroom.  The mushroom had been knocked over and pieces of the fragile plant were strewn about.  When I looked closely at the pieces, I could actually see tooth marks left by the hungry squirrel.  Then next day I found, since the last time I visited the feeding site, a squirrel had eaten even more of the mushroom. Prudent homeowners would never try to eat a mushroom without being sure the mushroom was not poisonous.  Even then, you cannot be sure what you are eating.  I have a friend that fancied himself as being a mushroom expert.  One on fateful occasion, his misidentification of a mushroom landed him and his family in the hospital.

        Eating a poison mushroom is not a concern for the gray squirrel.  Remarkably, they seem to be able to eat any mushroom without risking becoming sick or killed.  In fact, researchers have found gray squirrels have the ability to eat mushrooms containing deadly amanita (deathcap) toxins with impunity.  The gray squirrel is one of only a handful of animals capable of this gastronomic fete.

        Who would have ever thought that the animal that eats our vegetables, destroys our bird nesting boxes, eats more than its fair share of seeds at our feeders, and even invades our attics is a uniquely special animal?  I know I didn’t.  

BACKYARD SECRET: Earthworms are to main food of the eastern mole

       Two species of moles inhabit Georgia.  The eastern mole ranges across the entire state except northeast Georgia.  In this corner of the state, it is replaced by the star-nosed mole.

       The eastern mole prefers eating earthworms; however, it will also devour snails, centipedes, and both adult and larval insects including ants.  In fact, this rarely seen backyard resident will even burrow into ant mounds in search of tangy ants.

      

COYOTES IN MY BACKYARD?

       If you hear or see one wild animal in a western movie, chances are it is going to be a coyote.  Indeed, the coyote is synonymous with the western United States, which occupies a wide variety of habitats ranging from scrublands to open grazing lands.

       For a variety  of reasons, during the past century coyotes were released throughout the eastern United States.  As a result, nowadays coyotes can be found in Georgia and every other state east of the Mississippi River.

       This western import has proven to be extremely adaptable to the habitat conditions in its new home.  While most of the coyotes live in forested and farmlands, others have staked out territories in urban and suburban areas.

       As a result, it is indeed possible that coyotes will be spotted  in your backyard.  When I tell people about this possibility, their reaction is typically, “Coyotes in my backyard?  How can I reduce the chances that will never occur?”

       Recently Maureen Murray, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Georgia, recently published the results of a study regarding the movements of urban coyotes in Edmonton, Alberta in The Journal of Wildlife Management.  The researcher’s findings may help us understand why coyotes visit some yards and not others.

       The study suggests coyotes seem to prefer yards that offered plenty of cover such as thick shrubbery.  They also more often frequent yards that were unfenced than those that are fenced.  In addition, the animals seem to be drawn to yards where seed litters the ground beneath bird feeders, berries  collect beneath shrubs and trees, garbage cans are knocked over, and where an open compost pile is located.

       Another interesting finding was during the study the coyotes that were most likely to be seen in yards during the daytime suffered from sarcoptic mange.

       Who would have ever thought coyotes would one day inhabit backyards in the Peach State?

GRAY SQUIRRELS ARE NOT SOCIAL BUTTERFLIES

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Watching gray squirrels in your backyard can be fascinating, particularly when you understand a little about their behavior.  For example, if you watch squirrels for a while, you will notice that they are not social butterflies.  By that I mean, that they do not hang out in groups like wild turkeys and chickens.  Typically, about the only time they get together is during mating season, or when they are drawn together by an abundance of food such as a pecan tree full of nuts.

This lack of tolerance among gray squirrels can be seen around your bird feeders.  If you keep a close eye on squirrels as they conduct a raid on your feeders, you should notice when they converge on such a treasure trove of food, they rarely feed closer than four to four and a half feet from each other.

In addition, you might even be able to recognize that feeding squirrels have a pecking order.  Male squirrels typically dominate all other squirrels.  Adult males and females both dominate juveniles and squirrels that have moved in from other areas are at the bottom of the pecking order.