Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Spring has sprung, and the round-tailed ground squirrels have emerged from hibernation, and are preparing for their spring litters. Thanks to a large litter born on my property last year, there is now a good sized population, and it's been quite interesting to watch their antics.

In the first few weeks, the males were aggressively engaged in turf wars, pursuing the females and chasing off their competition. The battle-scarred males (below) have now dispersed, and are seen only on occasion foraging for food. If they come too close to the females, they will be be run off immediately.

For the females, the work has just begun. As far as I can tell, there are four of them who are preparing for young. They are definitely siblings, probably the babies who were born here last year. They are living in a sort of colony, each with her own burrow, but spaced less than ten feet apart from one another. This is a strong indicator that they are related. One has re-excavated the natal burrow from last year (which I had filled in, along with many of the other holes, during the winter). Once the burrows were dug, the nest building began. Leaves and feathers are a favorite item, though they'll drop those items quickly if a nice soft Kleenex is offered to them.

Fast forward two weeks, and the nest building is complete. The little ladies are now quite visibly pregnant, and are spending their days basking, foraging, and waiting for mother nature to call (which by the looks of things, should be any minute now).

The litter size of a round-tailed ground squirrel depends on the amount of winter rainfall and resulting food supply. With this winter being unseasonably wet, I'm expecting to see some large litters. So in a few months, when the little fellas emerge from the dens, there will be . . . a LOT of them. My property will look like Swiss cheese through most of the summer, but no complaints. When I bought this house, the previous owner had removed most of the native vegetation, and there was little wildlife here. Thanks to some conservation efforts, the animals are returning. It's a joy to see nature thriving once again.

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