Guest Blogger: Nicole Richer
My backyard is like a miniature refuge: it offers a healthy environment with plenty of food, water and shelter for whoever comes by. For this post, I wish to present four “Friends” who took shelter in my yard in the recent past.
One day, the most likable Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) came to my garden. Energetic and quick, he would come in the garden to eat the sunflowers found under the feeder, quickly moving between the feeder and his burrow. Sometimes, he would stay still long enough for me to have fun taking his picture. So cute!
Eastern Chipmunks generally live in wooded areas such as forests and brush. They dig burrows to store food and hide their nests, which are made out of leaves. They breed in early spring and hibernate in late fall waking only every two weeks to eat. Eastern Chipmunks can eat a variety of food. The chipmunk that inhabited my yard recently ate large quantities of sunflower seeds that he stored under my plants. Unfortunately for him (or her!) the seeds that were stored underground quickly sprouted into plants.
My other “friend”, a female Stripped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis), has been around for the last few years under my garden shed. She has never inconvenienced me. In fact, I love seeing her around my yard. I keep my distances and so does she. Last year, she gave birth to a single baby. I had the wonderful opportunity to see her and her baby taking evening strolls to eat birdseeds under my feeders.
Skunks are omnivores; they eat plants, insects, worms, and sometimes eggs. Skunks are slow moving animals, but can run very fast if in danger. Their vision is poor, but they do have excellent hearing and sense of smell. They are also generally mild tempered, but if threatened, they can spray up to 10 feet in the air! Skunks generally give warning gestures before spraying, like stomping their front feed up and down when a fast escape is impossible.
A Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) has been taking shelter in the bushes near the pond recently. I love this critter, as he or she would not mind a bit when I took pictures after pictures of its cute face. This squirrel is quite photogenic! The fur of Red Squirrels fur range from a reddish-brown color in the summer to a deep brown with gray in winter. They have a beautiful bushy tail and ear tufts also. This squirrel is known for being quite fearless, stamping its feet and flicking its tails when threatened. Their usual meal consists mostly of seeds and berries and their nests are constructed of grass where the female gives birth once or twice a year to 3 to 8 babies!
At the far end of my backyard is a pile of shrubbery that has been created from cutting branches over the years. It is home to many birds. Last year, I started seeing a dirt pile being built from under the shrubbery pile. It started with a small hole and each day the hole kept getting bigger and bigger. The amount of dirt, rocks, branches, and leaves coming out of the hole was startling. Then one day, I finally saw the culprit at the entrance of the burrow. There lay a very tired Groundhog (marmota monax).
Groundhogs can build very large burrows with multiple exits and many chambers. That explains the quantity of material my groundhog dug out! Groundhogs are solitaire animal for a large part of the year, except during breeding season. They hibernate from late fall and go through bouts of torpor during their hibernation. The groundhog’s hibernation cycle is quite fascinating! It involves about 7 days in a torpor state, where its body’s temperature and metabolic rate is lowered and then the animal wakes up for a few days and the cycle begins again. Groundhogs are mostly herbivorous: they eat grasses, berries, and other vegetation.
You have met my four “Friends” who took shelter in my yard for a while. If you asked me, they haven't stayed long enough. The Eastern Chipmunk stayed for one summer. After given birth, the female Stripped Skunk stayed for a while and then she too left with her young. The Red Squirrel was seen during one winter and remained in my yard until spring. As for the Groundhog, the hole is still there but no sighting of it this spring so far. Summer is still young and I am eagerly waiting to meet my new friends or see old ones again. You never know who you can meet in your backyard! Tell me about some of your fun visitors!