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Squirrel Appreciation Day

Taking place in the dead of winter, when food for squirrels and other animals can be scarce, Squirrel Appreciation Day acknowledges the role of squirrels in nature and encourages people to put out nuts, seeds, or other food for them. It was created in 2001 by Christy Hargrove, now Christy McKeown, who at the time was a freshman at UNC-Asheville, a wildlife rehabilitator affiliated with the Western North Carolina Nature Center, and runner of the now-defunct Squirrels R Us website. She wrote that people could simply "celebrate by putting out extra food for the squirrels."

Squirrels gather food for the winter during the fall. They plant nuts and seeds, even aerating lawns in the process. As winter drags on, they may find that the food they stored earlier is not enough, or that food that is found around them is limited. They likely could use an extra treat today. Squirrels are often known to be a nuisance when looking for food. They are aggressive at bird feeders, often tipping them over and spilling seeds, and are also known to destroy pumpkins on porches and dig up flower bulbs. Giving them food as a gift means there's a better chance the birds can eat in peace and your flowers will come up in the spring.

Squirrels, whose name comes from skiouros, a Greek word that means "shade tail," can be found on most places on Earth, on all continents except Antarctica. They are native to Asia, Africa, North America, South America, and Europe, and were introduced to Australia. There are over 200 species—by one count there are 268. When most people talk about squirrels, they are referring to tree squirrels, of which there are 122 species. Ground squirrels, flying squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, and prairie dogs are also part of the squirrel family. There are approximately 44 species of flying squirrels, which don't actually fly but glide.

Two of the most common tree squirrels in North America are the western gray squirrel and the eastern gray squirrel, while the red squirrel is more prominent in Europe. However, since 1948, when the eastern gray squirrel was introduced to Europe, the number of red squirrels in Great Britain and Ireland have been decreasing. Not surprisingly, the eastern gray squirrels are viewed as being an invasive species there. The eastern gray squirrel outnumbers any other in the United States. They average just over 16 inches in length and weigh about a pound.

Squirrels range in size from a few inches to a few feet. The smallest is the African pygmy squirrel, which averages three inches, while the largest is the Indian giant squirrel, which may reach three feet in length, including the length of its tail. Squirrels live in dreys, which are nests located in trees. The breeding season in the Northern Hemisphere is long and may last from December through September. Depending on species, squirrels give birth to one or two litters of babies a year, with three to seven young in each litter. Although the vast majority of squirrels can be seen running freely, most types of squirrels are also hunted for food, and some are kept as pets. But on Squirrel Appreciation Day, we remember the importance of squirrels in nature and do our part to make sure they don't go hungry.

How to Observe Squirrel Appreciation Day

Show your appreciation for squirrels today by leaving some food out for them. Some commonly left foods include corn and peanut butter. You could attach an ear of dried field corn onto an eye-screw and then connect it to a chain that is looped on a tree branch, or you could put some peanut butter on a pine cone. However, even though these are some popular ways squirrels are often fed, corn and peanut butter aren't the healthiest foods for them. Some healthier foods for squirrels include fruits, vegetables, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, and hickory nuts. If you want to make the squirrels work for their food, you could build them an obstacle course.

There are many other ways you could show your appreciation for squirrels and learn about them. You could watch some in your yard or in a park, maybe even taking pictures of them. You could even venture to a place known for squirrel viewing. Although it's best to experience squirrels in nature, you could also learn more about them at a natural history museum or zoo, or watch a documentary about them. Some books about squirrels you could check out include Squirrels at My Window or Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide. Children may enjoy Those Darn Squirrels or The Adventures of Chatterer the Red Squirrel. You could also read about some notorious squirrels or get a laugh by watching videos of squirrels.

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