Why do squirrels gather food for winter?
At this time of year you may notice squirrels gathering nuts and other food sources in preparation for the fast approaching winter months.
Squirrels can’t find enough food every day during the winter, and they’d starve to death if they didn’t make appropriate preparations. That means stashing food in their den's such as attics to make it through the winter.
Gray squirrels particular approach to food is called “scatter hoarding”. Squirrels will bury their nuts where the frost can’t reach them, normally at least an inch beneath the surface.
How do squirrels find their nuts?
Squirrels use a combination of clues to find their nuts again later. First, the caching is not random. A particular place will have been chosen – under a big oak, for example – and remembered. Several squirrels may also use the same patch, which increases the probability that they will find stored nuts simply by chance.
When a squirrel returns weeks later, it peers at the ground, looking for disturbed soil and sniffing to detect a nutty smell. This multi-sense inspection focuses digging on the spots most likely to yield a nut.
BUT there are many that are missed, which develop into new trees, benefiting future generations.
There are many factors contributing to high efficiency of forest regeneration by grey squirrels.
The first factor in the grey squirrels' success in forest regeneration is the huge amount of tree seeds they bury. Research has shown that grey squirrels store 96.9% of their seeds in this way (Goheen & Swihart 2003). Scientists also managed to establish that about 30% of the buried seeds will never be recovered by grey squirrels. These buried and unrecovered seeds are the basis for the future forest regeneration.