Thom Smith | NatureWatch: Squirrel numbers up slightly


Q: This winter, there are more squirrels around and have taken over our bird feeders. Normally, I have a few, maybe one or two, this past month there have been five or six every day (and none are black). Your thoughts?

— Blandford reader

A: This appears to me, in the heart of the Berkshires, to be an average gray squirrel year, slightly higher than the last two years and just a little more problematic. I would not worry; while their numbers are up in your neighborhood, the numbers should level off and even drop if Blandford is saturated. Food (all sources), predation by neighborhood cats, coyote, bobcat, foxes, fisher, hawks and owls are limiting factors. In addition, and very important are adequate nesting places. Sometimes grays are chased away by red squirrels, and one showed up at our feeders this morning as I was writing this column. Time will tell if this feisty little rodent will take over and chase the competition away. With a good autumn mast of abundant acorns, and various nuts and fruits, a healthy birth rate for squirrels will usually continue; a poor one is indicative of lower birth rate. And, in the wild, populations rise and fall quickly.

Q: Do we have to worry about ticks this winter with all the zero-and-below weather we have had?

— Alison, Stockbridge.

A: When I think of how relieved I use to feel after a killing frost, I shuddered when I learned no longer! The answer to your question is yes, don't worry, but be aware. If the temperature is above 40 degrees F, some say 35 degrees, put on DEET at entrances to the warmth of you body. To be safe, I will now say, 35 degrees. And I admit, it sounds wrong applying insect repellent containing DEET before going cross-country skiing, but it isn't. Keep in mind that snow is a good insulation and ticks protected by leaves covered by snow can withstand below-zero temperatures. Using sunscreen is also a yes.


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Internationally renowned wildlife tracker and photographer Sue Morse will present "Animals of the North: What Will Climate Change Mean for Them?" at 7 p.m. Feb. 23, at the Boland Theater at Berkshire Community College, 1350 West St.. Pittsfield.

This free program, organized by the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, is designed to educate audiences about ways in which northern wildlife species are being affected by climate change, with more serious challenges ahead. Canada lynx, moose, American marten, caribou, polar bear, arctic fox and arctic marine mammals and waterfowl are some of the species covered. The program will devote equal time to sharing remarkable images and stories about plants and animals in their northern habitats — all in the spirit of Jane Goodall's "reason for hope." The intent is to inspire attendees, young and old alike, to join in the vital crusade to change our fossil fuel-burning ways, conserve natural resources and share a healthy planet with all that lives.

For more information: 413-230-7321; email:, or


Get outdoors with an easy Winter Snowshoe Walk/Wildlife Tracking/Birding program to be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at Housatonic Flats in Great Barrington. Explore the fields and riparian forest and learn to recognize and read wildlife tracks and see what winter birds live there. If there is no snow, the group will skip the snowshoes and go for a winter hike. Bring your own snowshoes or rent a pair from Berkshire Bike & Board, 413-528-5555. The program is sponsored by the Great Barrington Land Conservancy and Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

This is a free event, but advance registration is requested, For more information or to register by phone, call 413-499-0596 (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Severe weather will cancel the event.

Directions: From Great Barrington: From the Price Chopper, head north on Route 7 for less than half a mile. Parking will be on the left.


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