Weird Squirrel Behavior: A Reference Question

From the Ask a Librarian Reference Desk:

“The squirrels in my neighborhood are clipping little twigs off of ornamental trees and throwing them on the ground. So many twigs everywhere! Why are they doing this?”

Dear Patron,

Thank you for contacting The Seattle Public Library for assistance unraveling your squirrel-related mystery! Experts in squirrel behavior, such as the folks who work for University Extension programs and wildlife organizations, are not entirely sure why squirrels do this. They have two main theories:

  1. They’re eating parts of the tree — The cambium layer beneath the bark of trees is rich in minerals and other nutrients, which can be in short supply during winter. Squirrels may be trimming branches and peeling bark to gain access to this food supply. (See the University Extension Ask an Expert database and Michigan State University Extension.)
  2. They’re cutting clippings for nesting material – Some Squirrels build nests, called “dreys,” in tree branches using a combination of leaves, twigs, bark and other vegetation. Some even build two or three nests at one time, to create multiple avenues of shelter and escape.  It could be that your squirrels have a construction project and are throwing rejected building materials on the ground below. (West Virginia Wildlife Magazine speaks to this.)

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