They could be running a marathon a day, but they just can’t keep the weight off.
That could be a big reason why your backyard squirrel looks a whole lot chunkier this winter, at least according to wildlife experts.
“This year is what we call a ‘mast year’ for oak trees,” said David Mizejewski, a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. “Every few years, they produce a huge crop of acorns.”
“Obviously, they are a food source for squirrels,” Mizejewski said.
There’s no official quantitative science to back up the observation. Squirrels obviously don’t get annual physicals. But anecdotally, the message got out quickly when the Internet exploded after the New Year from residents across the Great Lakes, Canada and even photographing– what they perceive to be plumper-than-usual squirrels this year.observing – and
Besides the extra acorns, it was also an unusually warm autumn. In Buffalo, December was the warmest of its kind on record.
Combine that with a glut of acorns, and you have a lot of feasting squirrels.
And other animals too.
Birds like blue jays, woodpeckers and wild turkeys also feast on acorns along with white-tailed deer, black bear, chipmunks and deer mice.
“This is a huge boon for all sorts of wildlife,” Mizejewski said. “They can really fatten up.”
The food storage helps wildlife to survive the winter and even emerge healthier, stronger and more viable for reproduction come spring, he said.
The larger-than-life squirrel craze has attracted attention from he Weather Channel, the Huffington Post and Canada’s CBC. Scientists from the state Department of Environmental Conservation couldn’t confirm squirrels in the area were any healthier – or bulkier – this winter.
“Since biologists don’t typically measure local winter squirrel conditions, we aren’t convinced that the ‘year of fat squirrels’ is more than just an Internet phenomenon,” said Brittany F. Rowan, an educator for the DEC at the Reinstein Woods Environmental Education Center in Depew, in a statement.
Rowan added, however: “An abundance of apples this year, or a good mast crop, could contribute to larger than normal squirrels. In addition, the lack of snow on the ground and warmer temperatures would allow for more efficient foraging.”