"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Bark-Eating Squirrels
Copyright © 2007 by Bill Scifres

With squirrel season only a month hence, we launch today’s column with a question from Tom Roach, a Bloomington reader of my web page, who asks about squirrels eating the inner bark (cambium) of beech trees.

The cambium, as I see it, is a pithy, paper-like substance between the hard, outer bark and the wood of a tree (including limbs). In short, I guess, it would be good to say it is the tree’s method of growth.

Incidentally, having observed this natural phenomenon for many years, I would also say this eating occurs much more often on wrist-size limbs and those smaller than trunks of trees. This probably is caused by the fact that a squirrel can bite better on small, or relatively small, limbs.

Tom writes:

“I have noticed here lately the fox squirrels in the courtyard (Wright Quad, Indiana University, Bloomington Campus) are eating bark!!! Have you ever seen such a thing? They are ripping the bark off of Beech trees and eating the softer inner bark and dropping the hard outer bark just like a hickory nut cuttin’.

“The whole courtyard is littered with bark chunks... It is my humble opinion that they are probably starving as I have also seen them eating immature acorns as wel1...If you are so inclined I would be happy to show you in person... Some of the branches have as much as 4 or 5 feet of bare bark where the squirrels have eaten it... photo op?????? Just curious if you had ever seen anything of this nature.”

What’s this all about, Tom questions? Why do squirrels eat the inner bark of the trees, and drop the hard outer bark to the earth?

As Tom notes above, this behavior of squirrels probably is brought about by a shortage of food, in this case probably caused by the drought, especially since the squirrels have recently fed on immature acorns of oak trees.

Normally, however, it is a condition that exists in the late winter or early spring when supplies of other foods squirrels use can get low.

Incidentally, the opening of the aforementioned squirrel season (entire state) is August 15. More on that later.

ON HUMMERS--Still another reader, Jim Wall, sends word of strange behavior on the part of the delightful little hummingbirds of summer (ruby throat, mostly).

Jim and his wife live east of Muncie, and have sugar-water feeders out for hummers every summer. He tells me that recently the hummers ceased to come to his feeders, and is wondering if other nature lovers are experiencing the same.

I have a sneaky suspicion that this behavior may somehow be related to the drought conditions that have existed in Central Indiana since spring of the year. I, of course, would be very interested if others have opinions or facts on the matter.

Spot checks of friends throughout the state have revealed nothing unusual.

Ordinarily, the hummers don’t migrate south (and then to South America) until the blooms of summer subside. But it could be that they move to more fertile grounds.

Mother Nature tends to give her children built-in facilities for deciding on the issues.

IT’S A FACT--The artistically striped chipmunk spends most of its life on the ground, thus placing itself in a group known as ground squirrels. But it is an adept climber, seen occasionally scampering through the trees.


All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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