A Booming Favorite

By Amy Renfranz (dearnaturalist@gmail.com)

Article Published: Aug. 15, 2013 | Modified: Aug. 15, 2013
A Booming Favorite

If you give a squirrel a pine nut, will it ask for milk?
Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

We all have our favorites.

And for everything that you prefer, there is someone else out there who feels differently about that thing.

For instance, some people love to take pictures of white-tailed deer grazing in a misty meadow. There are also people that like to hunt white-tailed deer and then take pictures with their carcasses.
There are people that marvel at the birds coming to the feeders on their back porch. There are other people who would feel much more inconvenienced by the bird’s droppings.

“What a mess,” they might say. “I hope they don’t decide to build a nest.”

And yet, there are other people that would revel at the thought of robins (even the messy ones) nesting on their porch. Especially if the nest was built low enough to allow a quick peek now and then at the growing chicks.

Meanwhile, there is a whole other group of people that prefer to feed squirrels at their bird feeders.

Dear Naturalist, A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I noticed a strange squirrel running up the pear tree in our front yard. It had an odd red face. At the time, I wondered if maybe it didn’t have some kind of disease or genetic mutation. However, I recently learned that what we have is actually a boomer. What can I (or should I) do to help our new boomer? – Abby C.

The boomer, also known as a red squirrel, has a saucy regard for its human neighbors. Weighing in at 11 ounces (tops) it is a surprisingly aggressive and agile food gatherer.

The majority of the red squirrel’s diet consists of seeds extracted from conifer cones. However, they will also eat flowers, birds, berries, mushrooms, eggs, mice, insects, bunnies and the occasional chipmunk.

If the boomer has moved into your neighborhood, then it probably has what it needs to survive. However, there are ways to support a boomer population.

It is best to think of things that you can do that will be long-lasting. Plant a conifer, allow blackberry brambles to grow along a fence line or landscape using holly bushes.

Any food set out in a feeder should be considered supplementary to the squirrel’s natural diet. So, set out only small amounts of food every three to four days. The boomers would greatly appreciate hazelnuts (in the shell), pine nuts, apples and carrots.

It is important to remember that boomers do not hibernate. Instead, they dig shallow pits into the soil where they store individual acorns or nuts until there comes a time when food is less plentiful. Then, they search out their hidden goodies.

They store their food in many places, so that if another squirrel or animal were to find a cache, the entire year’s supply would not be lost.

However, not all acorns or nuts are found. In this way, the squirrel is also a seed planter. The forgotten nut, snug under the soil, will grow roots and sprout.

You can prefer to feed your boomer all year-round. Or you can be the person who just prefers to watch them do what they do best.

Amy Renfranz is a North Carolina-certified environmental educator, certified interpretive guide and a Yellowstone Association Institute-certified naturalist. Have a question? Email Amy at (dearnaturalist@gmail.com)

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