Squirrels! Not only are they a fun thing to say, squirrels are also a great way to think about biodiversity, competition between species and conservation.
In the UK, the once-abundant red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) came under threat when grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) from North America were introduced in the 1870s.
This shows that the introduction of a new species to an area may sound positive in theory, but can have devastating consequences in reality.
Things you might need:
A pine cone
Chunky peanut butter
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Running time: Ongoing
How to make a feeder
What squirrels eat
What species live around your home
How to make a squirrel feeder:
- Ensure that the pine cone is free of any loose dirt or debris, and that it is completely dry. You may wish to leave the cones near a radiator for a few days to dry them out entirely.
- Allow the solid fat (like lard or vegetable shortening) to warm to room temperature, and mix it with the peanut butter.
- Spread this mixture all over the pine cone, making sure that you get it in between the cone scales. The mixture will act as a glue, but is also attractive to squirrels as it is.
- Once the cone is well covered with the peanut butter ‘glue’, roll the cone in a mixture of oats and crushed nuts. Use your fingers to press the oats and nuts into the peanut butter layer. Now you have a squirrel feeder!
- Allow the cone to dry slightly, then use a piece of string to hang it from a tree or bush - preferably in clear view of a window.
- Observe and record the number of squirrels visiting your feeder - it’s easiest to do this from inside the building, so don’t you disturb the feeding animals.
If you have children with nut allergies ensure they do not handle the squirrel cone mixture. Alternatively, you could alter the mix to avoid nuts.
How to take your investigation further...
Have a think about what food chains may exist in your local environment. Take a nature walk, taking note of any animals and plants that you see and try to create a food web like the one above.