Individual eastern gray squirrels are all about food.

They consume about two pounds of food per week. That is about 100 pounds in a year. They mainly are vegetarians, eating various nuts and other seeds, fungi and wild berries, and even bark and twigs when food stores run out in later winter.

They lick the sweet sap and eat the swelling buds of trees in early spring. The squirrels will eat eggs or a young bird in a nest or a bit of carrion, and like other rodents, they are fond of gnawing on shed antlers or bones.

Squirrels store acorns and other nuts singly in small holes dug in the ground in August and into fall. A hole a little more than an inch deep is quickly dug, the nut put in, and soil and leaves pushed over it. They may also cache food in hollow trunks or fallen logs.

Naturalists have observed that the squirrels can remember where their food is stored for only about 20 minutes. After that, the food is found by smell. Thus, food storage benefits the local squirrel population rather than any one digger. Gray squirrels have large nostrils, and the size of their nasal cavities suggests they have a good sense of smell. Many times on the trails at the Lowry Nature Center in Carver Park Reserve near Victoria, the students and I have seen "squirrel refrigerators," spots where gray squirrels have dug down through close to a foot of snow, found an acorn and left the shell. Not all acorns and other cached seeds are found, so squirrels become helpful agents in spreading the forests on which they depend for their food and shelter.

Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.