Saturday, October 14, 2006

Rock Squirrel

I've never seen a Rock Squirrel (Spermophilus variegatus) in our patio until this one showed up the other day. It chased away the birds to get at the seed and peanuts that were on the ground, tried unsuccessfully to shinny up the bird feeder, then ran up and over the block wall. It returned a while later and I tried to get some decent photos of it, but it spotted me across the yard and would have none of it. These are the best I could do.

t. beth of Firefly Forest has a lovely story and photo of a Rock Squirrel she met up with in Sabino Canyon last year who attacked her camera. Unlike this one, hers was incredibly brazen; it obviously was used to humans and the treats that humans can provide.
Although they look like typical tree squirrels, Rock Squirrels are ground dwellers. They are the largest of the ground squirrels, weighing up to 1.5 lbs. (0.7 kg). Rock Squrrels are found most commonly in rocky outcrops, boulder piles, or canyon walls, but they are very adaptable and make use of suburban lots, tree roots, and many other places. They are omnivores. They feed on seeds, mesquite beans and buds, insects, eggs, birds, carrion, and a variety of fruits, including the fruit of barrel cactus and prickly pear. Rock squirrels forage for food on the ground of their home areas, but can also climb trees very well. They often climb into mesquites, willows, and ocotillos when they are first leafing out, to feed on the tender new growth. They also climb flower stalks of agaves to feed on the tender tips. In addition they hunt and kill small birds and rodents. "When a rock squirrel encounters a snake, it stamps its feet and waves its tail from side to side while facing the snake. It also tries to push sand or dirt in the snake’s face with its front paws." [Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum web site]
The next morning we found a little tunnelling in one of our plant beds, and, the morning after that, quite a bit more. Those are the butterfly/ hummingbird/ goldfinch-loving plants I managed to keep alive through a scorching summer. They've been a favourite of the Lesser Goldfinches and Broadtailed Hummingbirds, and I'm not about to give them up. So I guess it's going to be Havahart trapping time unless someone has a better suggestion.


robin andrea said...

Sorry, no suggestions, but havaheart trap sounds like a good way to go. We had to put a baffle on our birdfeeder to keep the adorable Douglas Squirrel out of it. I think making the yard less attractive to the squirrel, but still attractive to the birds is the way to go. We put food out on a platform off the ground, for those birds that might otherwise feed on the ground. Still, there's plenty of spilled seed on the ground, but not enough to keep a squirrel well fed.

good luck with it.

Pam in Tucson said...

Thanks for the comment, Robin. I'll look into creating a platform feeder. The quail, thrashers and ground doves are ground feeders and I don't want them to leave us.

Sandy said...

Hi, I posted about a squirrel today, too. One that I haven't seen yet, but seems to be making it's way into Maine.

Interesting about the squirrel's actions when it meets a snake. Would love to see that.

Pam in Tucson said...

sandy - went to your blog to see that wonderful black squirrel. Such a little beauty!

Mary said...

Squirrels are such fascinating creatures, we have the gray squirrels in our garden and they often destroy the nyt feeders.

Colleen said...

Good luck with this Pam. I've had one trying to make it's home underneath my house for the last 4-6 months. It took until 2 months ago for me to figure out what it ways. Then one day I saw it leaving the yard and hoped I scared it enough for it to stay away, that's when I knew it was a rock squirrel.

It still hasn't found a new home. We are considering a havaheart trap also. I guess I had better do something before it makes residence inside our home... ;>)

We are still trying to consider the best route.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, there is always that fine balance with nature isn't there?