There’s a definite symbiosis between these two totally different species. Squirrels are land and tree based animals that thrive in forest, urban and suburban settings containing food trees like pines, oaks and walnuts. They are world-class acrobats with a talent for climbing trees and branches with dexterity and dispatch.
On the other hand, birds are mostly sky pilots, but they can be found on the ground at times. The ground is a very dangerous place for a little bird to be. That’s where our furry friends come in. Squirrels are highly perceptive of the slightest changes in smells, movement and sounds in their environments. Birds rely on their tree-climbing friends to keep them informed of dangerous situations before they become deadly.
And then you have keen-eyed birds that know when a flying predator is near. If you’ve ever seen birds at the feeder suddenly fly off in all directions and remain hidden for some time, then you may have witnessed a hawk hunting nearby without even realizing it! The squirrels pick up on this rapid bird disappearance because they are just as vulnerable from the sky as from the ground.
Animals that prey on squirrels include hawks as well as coyotes, weasels, mink, foxes, wild dogs and feral cats. The same predators find birds very tasty as well. It behooves the birds and squirrels to ‘watch each other’s backs’ so to speak; survival depends upon this partnership.
Birds tend to be messy eaters. They scatter uneaten birdseed hither and yon. But nature doesn’t waste food. You may often see squirrels and ground-feeding birds side by side under your feeders. Rarely have I seen one chase off another. If I were a bird, I wouldn’t want to offend my bodyguard, and vice versa!
Take a look up into the trees on a late autumn or winter day. You’ll see the remnants of squirrel nests, which are made out of leaves. They tend to build these nests several times during the year. But once the cold, nasty weather hits, they seek shelter inside a nice cozy tree hole. That’s where they prefer to raise their young as well.
Just like the fallen bird seed, those leaf nests don’t go to waste. They are used by birds during the cold winter nights. Birds can hunker down among the leaf pockets to maintain their body heat until the sun warms them in the morning.
I’ve watched a number of different birds stash seeds under pieces of bark so they can come back later for a snack. In the meantime, our intrepid and opportunistic squirrels can’t bear to pass up a free meal. They watch the birds very closely and will often steal that snack for themselves.
Both birds and squirrels rely on the insects in the tree bark for sustenance. In the spring, when both are raising their young, they need to provide protein for strong bones and good development. If a squirrel happens to notice woodpeckers working at a particular spot on a dead branch, for instance, you can be sure he will hop on over for a little ‘look-see’ himself!
It’s a beneficial alliance that the squirrels and our backyard birds have going on. Next time you happen to see one of those pesky acrobatic squirrels on your feeder, remember that they are protectors for the birds, and that it works both ways!
Connie Smith is the proud owner and manager of Grandma Pearl’s Backporch, LLC, and the expert author of many online articles about easy and unique ways you can create the best bird-friendly habitats to help wild birds survive and thrive. Discover how to create fun and safe backyard habitats for wild birds using their preferred plants and foods, while adding color, fragrance and beauty to your landscape. Find simple how-to projects for making your own unique bird feeders; and learn how easy it is to attract a variety of birds to your yard and gardens. Join the fun and visit today!