Ground squirrels are a common sight at the Santa Rosa Plateau, and are often seen near the Visitor Center, especially on top of the boulders there.
Rick Bramhall, in Wild Mammals of the Santa Rosa Plateau (2003), gives the following information: Baby squirrels are usually born in late April or early May, typically in a litter of 6-7, and don't open their eyes until 33-39 days after birth. At about 4-6 weeks of age, they first poke their heads out of their burrows. In another four weeks, they begin to go off on their own.
On Memorial Day, 5/30/05, I was lucky to witness a mother squirrel moving her babies one by one from one side of the Visitor Center Parking lot to the island of vegetation in the middle of the parking lot. A young visitor asked me to identify a huge dandelion seed-head he had seen, which I identified as a grand mountain dandelion, Agoseris grandiflora, after he told me whether the seed head was white or gray. As we were talking about the plant, the young visitor noticed the squirrel with a mouthful of what looked like an animal. Since it is unusual to see a squirrel with animal prey, we were quite curious what it had in its mouth.
The answer was soon coming. The squirrel deposited its mouthful in the island, then went back across the parking lot. Within minutes, it had its mouth full again, making the same journey. This time, though, it dropped its mouthful partway across the parking lot, which immediately scurried around the squirrel. It was a baby squirrel!
Mom caught it quickly, and dropped this one off at the island as well.
Finally, it occurred to me to photograph the next baby transport trip. After a few more minutes, I captured the following shots of the third baby being transported:
Blow up of the above pix, plus blow ups from two other pix:
The above pictures were taken from a fair distance away, since I didn't want to frighten the squirrel. After I got those pictures, I went to the other side of the squirrel's path, where I could hide behind a car, but be closer to the squirrel.
Even though the squirrel went back for the next baby, my patience gave out after 5-10 minutes. Perhaps she was having trouble with an unruly youngster that she was having a hard time corralling. Or perhaps she was bothered by a visitor who drove in, parked, then walked across her path.
While I was waiting, I took pictures of the babies in the island. They would scurry out the vegetation a few feet into a bit of an opening, but quickly scurry back whenever they heard a noise. It appeared that they were searching for mom:
Mom! Mom! Where did you go?
I don't know for sure why the mom was moving her kids. Here are some possible reasons:
- Perhaps she was like our cat when our cat had kittens. Our cat would regularly move the kittens around our house, hoping to move them to someplace where we wouldn't know where the kittens were.
- Perhaps the den had become known to predators, and so she was moving it. (Thanks to Rick Bramhall and Rob Hicks for supplying this reason.)
- Perhaps the move was to cut down on parasites infesting the old den. (Thanks to Rick Bramhall for supplying this reason.)
- Perhaps it was time for the kids to be going off on their own, and the mom was moving them away from her territory.
Go to Wild Animals At the Santa Rosa Plateau
Copyright © 2005 by Tom Chester.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Updated 2 June 2005.