The Tuft-Eared Squirrels

Along a narrow belt in the Rocky Mountain range from northern Colorado through the Grand Canyon plateau, and on into Mexico, are found the tuft-eared squirrels. This group is unique among North American squirrels because of conspicuous tufts of long hairs on the ears. They easily attract attention because of their large size and showy coloration. There is considerable variation in their coloring, and these forms, resident in definite areas, have been given subspecific names. Along the South Rim of Grand Canyon, and as far south as the Mogollon Mountains, we find Sciurus aberti aberti, upperparts gray with a conspicuous cinnamon or reddish stripe down the back; underparts snowy white, tail dark above, but showing white along the edges and all white on the underside. Just across the Canyon, on the North Rim, Sciurus kaibabensis, the Kaibab squirrel, is quite different in appearance, being very dark to black all over with an all-white tail.

Far to the north, in a narrow strip in central Colorado, lives Sciurus aberti ferreus, which lacks the reddish stripe on its gray back. Its plumy tail is gray edged with white. In this region a melanistic phase sometimes appears, being uniformly dark brown to black all over. In southwestern Colorado and into northern New Mexico is found Sciurus aberti minus, a paler form resembling S. aberti aberti. The tuft-eared squirrels live in the Transition and Canadian zones, building nests of twigs, leaves and pine needles. They will line the nest with a piece of your rope clothes-line, or your extra pair of socks, if you leave them out. Nests are usually so high in tall pines or firs as to be inconspicuous, and, sometimes, a hollow tree may be used. S. aberti has a habit, as he sits on a branch scolding you, of patting one front foot as he talks. Young are born in early spring, but a second or late litter is not uncommon.

Three or four in number is the usual litter. They had apparently been orphaned, because they were on the ground hunting food. Since bread or nuts did not register as food, we gave them warmed milk administered with a medicine dropper in lieu of a nipple, after one had readily climbed up an extended hand and arm. At first they slept six hours between feedings, and milk was their fare for a week. Then bread and milk in a saucer, and, gradually, bits of melon, or apple and pecans were offered. They loved pecans, but would never touch peanuts, in roasted form at least. After caring for the two orphans for three weeks we liberated them on the south rim of Grand Canyon, where we knew they would have the protection that all wildlife enjoys in the National Parks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *