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6/14/16- Parks and Squirrels

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by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist

Have you ever been sitting in a stand or wandering along in the woods and something caught your eye? You thought it was a fox but then it scaled a tree like a cat. Chances are you spotted a fox squirrel. Although larger than grey squirrels, the fox squirrel population is much smaller than the grey squirrel population in Alabama. Among other things, this organism is greatly affected by habitat type and habitat management.

The fox squirrel, or Sciurus niger, is a much larger specimen of squirrel. Compared to grey squirrels that weigh barely a pound, fox squirrels are much larger, weighing in at two to three pounds. Their faces are usually black or dark grey and their bodies are some shade of red or light grey. The large, bushy red tail gives the illusion of a fox running along the ground. But few sightings have been reported lately. This is because our forest types are no longer conducive to the fox squirrel. This animal prefers park like understories where it can see a long way. Our tightly packed pines and poorly managed hardwoods deter fox squirrels. The reduction in longleaf pines across Alabama has also forced the fox squirrel to colonize new areas, which it does quite easily. So how can you manage for the fox squirrel? You can start by frequent prescribed burns. This will keep your understory clean and provide that “park” like understory. It is also important to keep the over story thin. The thin over story will allow light to hit the forest floor (while also providing vegetation), but the fire will keep the understory from becoming too thick. For example, thin the canopy every 5-10 years and burn your understory every 2-3 years. This management will encourage fox squirrels to inhabit your area, even if it is at a low density. Like the grey squirrel, they are opportunistic feeders and will feast on seeds and berries and vegetation, or whatever is available. Most fox squirrels will build dreys, or large, leafy nests in trees, but some will also create cavities in mature trees.

If you would like to see more fox squirrels, follow these simple guidelines on your property. Open understory, mature hardwoods, and frequent burns are most conducive for raising a small population of fox squirrels! This management plan is also suitable for turkeys as well (two birds, one stone). So, if you too enjoy being at a park, turn your land into one and see what other organisms enjoy the park too!

By: Meaghan English

My name is Meaghan English, a wildlife specialist with TrueSouth. I graduated from Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Ecology and Management and I have grown up with a passion for hunting. I knew from an early age that I was not only interested in the harvesting of wildlife, but I was also very interested in their biology and management. I decided that I not only wanted to be a wildlife enthusiast, I want to be an educated wildlife specialist. I will be using that grand education as a member of the TrueSouth team contributing wildlife blog articles!

My first hunting memory flashes back to when I was six or seven years old. Like any other Saturday during deer season, my dad had told my mom to get me ready because we were going hunting. Of course I was ecstatic! I was not ecstatic about the hair bow my mom made me wear with my camouflage (she wanted everyone to know I was in fact a fashionable girl). The entire way to Perdue Hill, Alabama, my dad told me that today would be the first day I would actually shoot my first deer and I knew I was ready. We pulled up to the camp, unloaded, and fed all the “camp cats”. Before we headed to our stand, I had spotted three kittens that I simply could not leave behind so I stuffed them in my jacket. After walking what seemed like five miles, we finally made it to the “Pressbox stand” (with my smuggled kittens) and sat down. Dad continuously pestered me to be quiet, but I wasn’t that worried about shooting a deer, I had kittens! Eventually, the sun began to sink behind the trees and a spike (without olfactory senses) entered the field. When it was safe to quietly move, dad handed me the gun and I handed him my three kittens. I slowly pulled the gun up and placed my cheek against the stock. Dad told me to breathe slowly and pull the trigger when I was ready. Sure enough, I pulled the trigger and the spike hit the ground. We high-fived, exchanged kittens again, and climbed down to see the kill. It certainly was not a wall hanger, but a huge chapter in my life was started that night. My dad and I still hunt together to this day and we practice quality deer management at all times.

My ultimate goal is to provide clients with a survey of flora and fauna that currently inhabit a specific tract of land and, if desired, how to properly manage that land for the species that are found there. All feedback is greatly appreciated and I look forward to working with you!

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