By Jackie Woodcock
Nestled within the landscape of the Adirondack Mountains, a lively trio of small mammals steal the spotlight. In the midst of the mountains, the enchanting dance of grey squirrels, red squirrels, and
chipmunks is not merely a wildlife spectacle but a therapeutic symphony for the soul. These charming creatures, belonging to the Sciuridae family, contribute to the rich tapestry of wildlife in the wilderness around us. The Adirondack’s pristine landscapes and diverse ecosystems, provide a serene backdrop for observing these small wonders. Nature has an innate ability to soothe the mind and nurture the spirit. Throughout the seasons my Husband and I Watch the agile leaps of grey squirrels, the fiery guardianship of red squirrels, and the ground-level antics of chipmunks that together create a balm for the stresses of life.
There’s a profound connection between nature and human well-being. Studies have shown that spending time in natural environments can reduce stress, anxiety, and even improve cognitive function. The simple act of observing wildlife, like our trio of Adirondack squirrels, adds an extra layer of therapeutic benefit particularly during Winter, when the stillness of wildlife and a drab landscape can feel mundane. As we witness acrobatic displays, territorial negotiations, and playful interactions, a sense of calm descends. The rhythmic harmony of the lives of these little creatures becomes a form of nature therapy, offering respite from the hustle and bustle of daily existence. The natural world, with its simplicity and beauty, has a way of grounding us and reminding us of life’s essential rhythms.
Let me introduce you to the First of the trio, grey squirrels. With their sleek silver-grey fur and bushy tails, they are the quintessential acrobats of the treetops. Their keen intelligence is matched only by their adaptability, making them a common sight in the Adirondacks. Their fur acts as a natural camouflage against the bark of trees, allowing them to effortlessly blend into their surroundings. These squirrels are medium to large-sized rodents, with adults ranging from 17 to 21 inches, including their impressively long tails. They are agile climbers and prefer deciduous and mixed forests, where their sharp claws and strong hind limbs aid them in leaping from branch to branch. They are often found near human habitats, displaying their resourcefulness by adapting to urban environments. Communication takes place through a variety of vocalizations. The most common is the sharp, repetitive “kuk” sound, which serves as an alarm to warn of potential predators. Their chattering vocalizations can convey excitement or agitation, while a mellow purring noise is used during social interactions. When winter arrives, this critter remains active, relying on their keen memory to locate food caches made during the fall. Observing their acrobatics in the snow-covered trees can be a delightful Winter pastime.
Second of this trio is the Red Squirrel also known as the Fiery Guardians of the Pines. Red squirrels are easily recognizable by their vibrant russet coats and bushy tails. Despite their smaller size compared to their grey counterparts, red squirrels are known for their bold and feisty personalities. Red squirrels are smaller than grey squirrels, with adults typically ranging from 11 to 14 inches, including their tails. These squirrels favor coniferous forests, where their excellent climbing skills are put to use in pine trees. They construct intricate nests, called dreys, high in the branches, providing both shelter and vantage points for vigilant guardianship. They are vocal creatures, using a combination of chatters, buzzes, and trills to express themselves. A high-pitched, rapid series of “chirps” may indicate aggression or territorial disputes, while a softer, rhythmic chattering often signals a state of contentment. This critter like its larger counterpart, adapt to winter by staying active, creating a cozy nest within tree cavities and also rely on stored food supplies to sustain them through the colder months.
Last, but not least, of the trio is the Eastern Chipmunk, the Ground Dwelling and Striped Strolled member of the Squirrel family. Chipmunks, with their distinctive striped backs and cheek pouches, are the terrestrial members of this trio. Their bustling energy and cheeky demeanor make them a delightful addition to the Adirondack ecosystem. Chipmunks are the smallest of the trio, with adults typically ranging from 7 to 10 inches, including their tails. They thrive in a variety of habitats, from woodlands to meadows, but they are commonly found in areas with dense undergrowth and ample cover. Their burrows, equipped with multiple entrances, serve as both refuge and food storage. They are communicative and employ a range of vocalizations to convey messages. A high-pitched “chip” serves as an alarm, alerting others to potential threats. Interestingly, they also use a soft, melodic trill during courtship and mating, emphasizing their social nature. Unlike the other two members of this family, these tiny critters enter a state of torpor during the winter months, relying on stored food in their burrows. While they may not go into complete hibernation, they are less active and spend more time in their cozy nests.
In the Adirondacks, these three species of small mammals create a harmonious symphony of life. Feeding and observing these creatures, especially during the Winter, can bring immeasurable joy and a deeper connection to the enchanting world of nature right in our backyards. Over the years, my husband and I have curated an unspoken friendship with these precious creatures. The squirrels, both red and grey remain leery of interaction for quite longer than the chipmunks, who in our experience are much more social able and trusting. They are able to be handled for short bursts or to be more accurate the amount of time it takes them to fill their cheeks full of nuts you are offering in your hand. To hold one of these creatures in your hand and to see every detail of their appearance, their intricate coloring and their tiny toes bring a type of wonder and joy only nature can provide.
If you would like to cultivate your own friendship with one of these creatures, leaving seeds and nuts in low riding, open feeders is your best bet. In Winter, these miniature pals sure appreciate a helping hand with a special treat consisting of a pinecone full of sunflower seeds or peanut butter and if you’re feeling generous both.
So, the next time you find yourself amidst the Adirondack wilderness, take a moment to not only witness the balletic performances of grey and red squirrels or the animated scurrying of chipmunks, but also let yourself absorb the healing energy of nature around you. In this symphony of life, there is a therapeutic melody, and the charming inhabitants of the Adirondack Mountains are the composers of a healing serenade for the soul.
Photo at top: Artwork by Jackie Woodcock.