Red Squirrel Middens
By Chris Williams on August 5, 2011.
Q. I found this huge pile of what looks like broken up pine cones in our garden shed. What kind of animal left that behind?
A. Sounds like you found a “middens” pile that belongs to a red squirrel. In late summer, red squirrels will collect and store spruce and pine cones for winter food. A midden is basically a food stash containing conifer cones along with piles of scales from cones that have already been eaten by the squirrels. Gray squirrels store nuts in lots of different places, but red squirrels have one large pile somewhere in their territory. Young squirrels must either inherit middens from their mom or establish their own in order to survive their first winter.
You must have spruce, pine, or fir trees on your property. Red squirrels feed mainly on the seeds of conifers, primarily spruce, and are sometimes called “pine squirrels.” Nut crops comprise about 3/4 of their diet. Red squirrels also feed on other plant materials such as berries, fruits, seeds, buds, and flowers. In fact, those ingenious little red squirrels have been known to clip and gather mushrooms and place them among tree branches to dry in the sun!
Red squirrels are smaller than gray squirrels, but larger than chipmunks. As their name suggests, they are rusty red or reddish brown on the back and white or gray-white on the belly. Their tail is rusty too, sometimes tinged with yellow.
Red squirrels nest primarily in grass nests in tree branches, but occasionally will use old woodpecker holes in trees, or rock dens. Red squirrels are very territorial and females are solitary nesters with only their young. A single female red squirrel will have multiple nests in her territory and will move her young from nest to nest. Juvenile red squirrels will establish their own territories near their mother. That would seem to be a lot of squirrels in one area but many young squirrels do not survive their first year. Those that do, have a life expectancy of just a little more than two years.
Gray squirrels are the real bad boys in the squirrel world, often causing problems when they interact with people. But red squirrels are no angels. They will sometimes chew maple syrup lines. They can cause damage to home vegetable or flower gardens, and they have been known to collect and use building insulation for their nests. Red squirrels are noisier than gray squirrels. They have a seemingly endless chatter of birdlike noises or scolding noises. And, like all rodents, they gnaw on wood, causing damage to siding, soffits, deck railings, deck furniture, etc. Like gray squirrels, red squirrels will sometimes move into attics or chimneys for denning.
Yes, they can be cute but if squirrels ever get the best of you, it’s time to call Colonial. Removing nuisance wildlife is one of our specialties. We are fully certified and licensed by the states of Massachusetts and New Hampshire to perform humane wildlife removal and relocation.