Living with Wildlife: A Surprising Squirrel Story

Douglas_squirrel_Whalen_Island_Park_Oregon
Douglas squirrel © K. Munsel, ODFW

 

This fall, we were delighted that a Douglas’ Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) was gathering Douglas Fir seeds and acorns from our yard because we hadn’t seen one on our property for almost 10 years. It is one of the smallest tree squirrels in Oregon and sometimes goes by the name of chickaree or pine squirrel. In Oregon it occurs in coniferous forests from the Pacific coast as far east as western Baker County. They are active during the day all year long, except during bad weather when they stay in their nests or tree dens.

We didn’t know where our squirrel neighbor was nesting but we built a nest box based on the unique plans we found online at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Days later, we were disappointed to find he had made a nest in our garage on top of an old backpack. He had filled the nest with items he had found in the garage; an old dishwashing sponge, an empty superglue container, bits of tile and glass, an old paintbrush and the green tomatoes I was missing from the basket I use to ripen vegetables. Soon, we became alarmed at finding another nest on a shelf near the top of the garage, along with a hole in the ceiling and wall insulation filling the nest. We now decided we had to remove him because of the destruction he had caused so far.

A live trap was set and shortly before dusk, we got him. We took him to the end of our long driveway and set him loose. A flashlight focused on the animal leaving the trap surprisingly confirmed it was actually a Dusky-footed Woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes). It dawned on us that the objects we found in the nest, better matched the habits of packrats than the Douglas’ Squirrel.

Unlike the Old World rats, the dusky-footed woodrat is native to North America. They prefer to live in dense vegetation, preferably among oak trees (Quercus spp.) and construct houses of sticks and other debris in trees or on the ground. https://www.flickr.com/photos/eastbaywilds/8199711954/in/photostream/ Many stick houses are connected by paths between ground level openings that lead to large chambers through a maze of passageways. A central chamber stores food. This woodrat is more active at night. Dusky-footed woodrats have the unusual habit of collecting and accumulating woody debris and most any available small object into piles or nests which serve as living quarters, hence, the name packrat. They have even been known to take tools and leave other items in their place; where you left your nails you may instead find a bit of straw. While we admire the woodrat, we prefer to watch the Douglas’ squirrel scrambling for acorns and sunflower seeds under the bird feeder.

Attracting wildlife is a rewarding adventure and a growing trend in Benton County. In fact, Benton County is the first in Oregon to be certified as a Community Wildlife Habitat by National Wildlife Federation. Whether you choose to create habitat for Douglas squirrels, migratory birds, pollinators, or other species, certify your yard and join the movement!