Motorists, Beware of those Scampering Squirrels
By Kate White
Co-Editor, Wild Pony Tales
Thanks to the efforts of the biologists and other staff members of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, and those at other refuges, the fluffy tailed Delmarva Fox Squirrel, still on the endangered species list, continues to gain in population. Around 200 of them live on the refuge now.
But with mating season arriving in February and March, with young ones to follow in about 45 days, the refuge biologists want to caution drivers to be on the lookout for them as they scamper across roads and along the sides of roadways. As Joelle Buffa, senior biologist tells visitors about the Delmarva Fox Squirrel, she warns them to slow down and watch for the squirrels on roads throughout, the refuge. Three to nine squirrels are killed by cars annually. The first squirrel death this year occurred last week
The Chincoteague refuge was one of seven sites designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for fox squirrel recovery, first in 1979. In the following years habitat was established or altered to help build the population and information was collected on growth rates, movements, age and sex.
Ms. Buffa said along with efforts to protect the Delmarva Fox Squirrel, staff members work to educate the public. She said they have anniversaries, events, and sometimes even go to schools to tell kids about them and show them how to trap one. This is done by refuge staff only for population assessment. Ms. Buffa said the biologists and other staff members will spend the same time monitoring and managing for the squirrel even if it comes off the endangered list, which is a long process
The Delmarva Fox Squirrel has a large, fluffy tail. It’s frosty silver to slate gray with a white belly. Females weigh more than the males, but they can grow up to 30 inches long and 15 inches tall.
The breeding season peaks in February or March, but older females may breed twice a year. Places you might see them are in pines, marsh and shrubs, especially along the Woodland Trail, a popular trail for visitors, and at the end of the parking lots near forested areas
The female raises her young alone, taking care of a litter of 3 or 4. The young are born naked and blind, with their eyes opening in about five weeks. The refuge has built small boxes in several locations which some squirrels use as homes and for giving birth. The small wooden boxes are mostly made for protection from other animals and the weather. The squirrels also nest in hollows and cavities in trees. The fox squirrel prefers to move about in open areas under trees rather than dense undergrowth. Some wooded areas have been cleared of undergrowth to provide the fox squirrel with their preferred habitat. In moving around, the fox squirrel usually climbs down a tree then crosses on the ground to another tree, rather than jumping from tree to tree like the gray squirrel.
Their diet consists of insects, fruits, seeds, and flowers which are located in small forested areas. But during the harsh winter, they eat harvested nuts and hibernate in pines, oaks, and maples until spring. They can be seen on the ground nibbling on small buds starting to bloom or varieties of fungi. They especially like pecans but snack on other small things including mushrooms.