Cute alert: Meet some fuzzy, red residents calling an Inglewood backyard home

·3 min read
A trio of American red squirrels peek their heads out of a nest in Inglewood. (Brian Keating - image credit)
A trio of American red squirrels peek their heads out of a nest in Inglewood. (Brian Keating - image credit)

Some new residents are calling Calgary's Inglewood neighbourhood home.

They're arguably the cutest members of the community too — at least, Calgary-based naturalist Brian Keating thinks so.

Keating came across a family of American red squirrels in his backyard recently, a mother squirrel as well as four babies.

"They seem to be taking in the remarkable green world that is now theirs to explore," he said.

"It's been a red squirrel rodeo [here], and it's not confined to my backyard. Just a few doors to the west, my neighbours have been enjoying their own family of young red squirrels!"

The squirrels are a happy discovery, as Keating said he hasn't seen many in the area for the past few decades.

He expects they may have traveled along the river up from Fish Creek Provincial Park or down from Edworthy Park, looking for a new habitat. Inglewood probably looked like a suitable spot, he said, with more cone-producing evergreen trees sprouting up.

For a few seasons now, another red squirrel has taken over a birdhouse in his backyard and had babies of their own. A squirrel litter usually contains about three to four offspring, with one to two litters per year.

This latest squirrel family moved in about a month ago.

While watching them one evening, Keating saw the mother removing her little walnut-sized offspring from the nest, taking them to a new den elsewhere. He expects squirrels do this when nest parasites set in or as a way to confuse predators.

Brian Keating
Brian Keating

The family returned last week, and he was able to take some great photographs.

"[The mother] is the one pushing the face of one of her offspring away. I think it's a bit of 'tough love' behaviour," he said of one photo.

The squirrels won't stay too long.

After they're weaned, they'll be out in the world foraging. Squirrels are granivores, Keating said, which means they eat a diet primarily of seeds, buds and needles.

They also have to seek out new territory. According to Keating, they'll do that either by competing for a vacant spot, creating a new one, or by receiving all or part of their mother's territory.

Brian Keating
Brian Keating

Offspring that don't receive a midden — an underground cache of food such as white spruce cones – from their mother, typically settle within about 150 metres of their native territory.

One roadblock to their success may be other male squirrels in the neighbourhood.

Research published in 2018 by the University of Alberta showed that male red squirrels participate in a phenomenon called sexually selected infanticide, behaviour previously undocumented in red squirrels.

In years when food is plentiful and female squirrels produce two litters of pups, male squirrels kill the offspring of their rivals, thereby reducing their competitors chances of success.

Brian Keating
Brian Keating

Keating noted that in the end, only about a quarter of squirrels survive their first year.

"It's a tough life being a little squirrel."

Calgary is also home to Eastern grey squirrels, which are an introduced species, he said. They can store more fat for the winter, making them larger and stronger than red squirrels.

Keating tries not to feed grey squirrels, as it allows them to compete for a larger share of available food.

"Let's celebrate our native red squirrels!"

For more fascinating stories about Alberta's wildlife from naturalist Brian Keating, visit his website and check out these stories:

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