Intelligent Squirrels

Intelligent Squirrels: Squirrel Courtesy Pixabay
Courtesy Pixabay
Primates of the northlands. I consider tree squirrels to be on par with many primates for intelligence and agility. Those who have bird feeders may agree with me as they vainly attempt to thwart squirrel’s from invading their feeders. We have red squirrels visiting our bird feeder regularly. I’ve outsmarted them for the moment, but they continue to work on the problem I’ve presented them and feel a failure coming my way!

I’ve watched red squirrels manipulate fir cones with their front paws with amazing dexterity. Like myself eating a cob of corn, it spun the cone rapidly while shredding the cone scales to access the seed. Their tiny toes grip the cone identically to my fingers gripping the cob of corn. I’m amazed how they can unerringly navigate their way from tree to tree through our forest. There are many examples of squirrel intelligence witnessed by animal behaviorists.

Arboreal squirrels often build dreys that look like bird nests. Dreys are made up of twigs , moss, feathers and grass. All the items surrounding the dreys provide support and insulation. Chimpanzees exhibit very similar behavior.

Squirrels make use of several vocalizations to communicate with each other, they also create scents to attract opposite sex or communicate. They can create signals with their tails as well, by twitching it to alert other squirrels on the presence of a potential danger.

Tree squirrels display fantastically acrobatic movements, phenomenal adaptability to urban environments, and possess very cute little faces to boot. The 7th International Colloquium on Arboreal Squirrels was held 2018 in Helsinki, Finland. Studies routinely come discover new, amazing behaviors, especially involving the squirrel’s signature behavior, that it buries caches of its food to access later. One experiment found that they’ll try multiple tactics to open a locked box. Another found that squirrels remember the location of their caches without using their keen noses to locate them. Another found that they’re able to quickly learn from their peers.

A 2010 study found that squirrels actually engage in deceptive, or paranoid, behavior. When squirrels are being watched, they’ll construct fake caches, pretending to bury a nut by digging a hole, patting it down with their front teeth, and scraping dirt or grass over the top of it while concealing the nut in a pocket near their armpit, and will make the real cache somewhere else. Even while watching, it can be difficult to tell when a squirrel is making a fake or a real cache. How smart is that?

A study was conducted at UC Berkley in which students were placed in a competitive game to act like squirrels. They hid caches of plastic eggs, and then 15 minutes later returned to find them. This is a very squirrel-like test: memory, deception, location, observation, paranoia. Most students couldn’t remember their own hiding places. Squirrels bury about 10,000 nuts per year, making many different caches, and may not uncover them for months. They may dig up a cache and bury it somewhere else, and do that up to five times. Squirrels, unlike UC Berkeley students, are engaged in this intellectually draining activity while also avoiding predators and braving the elements.

This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon. I’m Wild About Utah and its amazing squirrels!


Picture: Courtesy Pixabay, Alexas Fotos, Photographer,
Audio: Courtesy UPR
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon,
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, Bridgerland Audubon,

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah,

Utah Fox Squirrels, NHMU is studying Fox Squirrels, and we need your help!, Natural History Museum of Utah,

Types of Squirrels in Utah! (3 species w/ pictures), Bird Watching HQ,

Responsible Pet Ownership

Responsible Pet Ownership: Cat Courtesy Pixabay Genocre, photographer
Courtesy Pixabay
Genocre, photographer
Our Homes, Our Pets, and Our Natural Environment: Supporting Coexistence through Responsible Pet Ownership.

Nature perseveres in even the most built environment. The cycle of life continues, in our parks, our backyards, and the green spaces in between. Hawks hunt for rodents, rodents forage for seeds, and both seek out mates, no matter how temporary.

We rarely pause to consider how the ‘wildlife’ we bring with us impacts the natural world around us. Our dogs, from stoic german shepherds to the fluffiest toy poodle, are descended from wolves. Our cats, distant relatives of the middle eastern wildcat, are arguably semi-domesticated, after only 12,000 years of human intervention. Perhaps in another 12,000 years the common house cat will be as perky and eager to please as the average golden retriever, but I doubt it.

No matter how loving, our pets are descendants of great predators and they have the ability to negatively impact the fragile ecological balance that persists around us. Some simple commitments allow us to continue to coexist. First, spay and neuter your pets. Unplanned litters contribute to animal shelter crowding and stray populations. Intact pets are also more likely to roam, and to disturb and harm wildlife.

Second, maintain control of your pets at all times. It may be adorable to watch your fox terrier romp unhindered through an urban park, but she is potentially searching for rodent burrows and bird nests to demolish with glee. Your cat is a fierce predator, with the unfair advantage of a delicious and reliable supply of cat food. The ready flow of calories you provide gives fluffy the energy to hunt with enthusiasm. Keep your dogs on a leash or under voice control and your cats indoors. If your feline demands fresh air, consider building her an enclosed catio. Generations of demanding cats have ensured that the internet contains instructions for easy and affordable catio construction.

And last, take a moment to observe and appreciate the vibrancy of life around you. All around your home, animals are hunting, eating, breeding, and dying. Nature has found a way, and we all have responsibility to respect and protect our local natural ecosystems and the essential biodiversity that relies on the interconnectedness of all it’s parts.

I’m Stacey Frisk with the Cache Humane Society and I’m Wild About Utah!

Images: Courtesy Pixabay, genocre collection,
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver
Text:    Stacey Frisk, Director, Cache Humane Society,
Included Links: Hilary Shughart & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster,

Additional Reading

Catio Spaces,

2020/2021 Bridgerland Audubon/Cache Humane Society Feline Fix Project

Cats Indoors, Bridgerland Audubon Society,

How cat advocates can allocate time and other resources for the biggest impact, Bays, Danielle Jo, Animal Sheltering magazine, Humane Society of the US, Winter 2018-2019,

Inspired by diagrams for healthy diets, the community cat pyramid encourages a holistic approach to cat management and a strategic use of resources. Graphic by Patrick Ormsby/The Humane Society of the United States
Inspired by diagrams for healthy diets, the community cat pyramid encourages a holistic approach to cat management and a strategic use of resources.
Graphic by Patrick Ormsby/The Humane Society of the United States

Cache Humane Society,

Beaver Tail Slap

Beaver Tail Slap: Beaver swimming Courtesy NPS,  J Schmidt, Photographer
Beaver swimming
Courtesy NPS,
J Schmidt, Photographer
When I first saw a beaver in Cache Valley I thought I’d seen an alligator. I was sitting in the front of a canoe when a large head shot past the bow followed by a black tail that flew into the air and came down on the water with a resounding slap

“What was that?” I asked
“I don’t know,” my friend answered
“I think it was an alligator,” I said
By then then creature had disappeared and we paddled on.

I found out later that tail slapping is a common beaver behavior. Its a warning shot before the beaver dives for cover.

Intrigued, I set out to learn more. It came as a surprise to me to find out that when a beaver builds a dam, it is actually building a home. Inside a sturdy wall of sticks, rocks and mud, the beavers build a living space above the water line. It’s dry – and its safe because it can only be entered by swimming through underwater tunnels. Not a problem for a beaver who can swim underwater for as long as 15 minutes.

When the surface of the pond freezes over, the females will give birth. Its an extended family life – an adult pair, the yearlings, and the new kits. When winter is long, and with so many mouths to feed, the beavers have perfected their food storage. Hauling their favorite food, aspen , back to the lodge, they jam it into the muddy bottom of the pond. There is stays, fresh and crisp like any refrigerated food, until its needed.

When fur trappers arrived in Northern Utah in the 1800’s, European hat makers had discovered that felted beaver wool made the very best hats. Bear Lake became a hot spot. The historical marker just north of Garden City tells us,

“Donald MacKenzie, Jim Bridger, and a host of famous beaver hunters operated here. Two major summer frolics and trade fairs brought plenty of excitement to Bear Lake in 1827 and 1828.”

Trappers were harvesting up to 500 lbs a year. But by 1840, the beavers had become almost extinct. European fashion in hats moved on to silk – a good thing for the hat makers as well because the mercury used in the felting of beaver wool caused all kinds of neurological disorders. Its no joke the Hatter in Alice in Wonderland is mad.

Back in northern Utah, the beaver population slowly rebuilt, but the human population also grew and conflicts arose. Recently a farmer in Benson became irate when beavers began to redirect the flow of water through his irrigation canals

Beaver Health Exam Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Becky Yeager, Photographer
Beaver Health Exam
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Becky Yeager, Photographer
It’s the job of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to live trap and relocate these beavers. I was lucky to be allowed into the loop at this point.

When I picked up one of the smaller beavers, I could feel its heart going a mile a minute under my fingers. But it settled down as I sat in a chair holding it against my chest while it got a quick physical checkup.

Holding the beaver close, I had a good look at the nibble fingers on its front feet, the webbing on its back feet that can paddle along at 6mph, and the marvelous flat tail, a good rudder for swimming, a prop for standing on land, and perfect for slapping the water’s surface.

Take my word for it, once you’ve seen this slap up close, you won’t forget it.

I’m Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah.

Photos: Courtesy US NPS, Yellowstone Collection, J. Schmidt, Photographer
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Featured Audio: Courtesy Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text & Voice: Mary Heers
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster

Additional Reading

Leavitt, Shauna, Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers, Wild About Utah, July 6, 2020,

Leavitt, Shauna, Proposed Beaver Holding Facility in Millville, Utah, Wild About Utah, September 3, 2018,

Goodwin, Jim, Riparian Zones and a Critter Quiz, Wild About Utah, January 22, 2015, June 15, 2015,

Strand, Holly, Beavers: The Original Army Corps of Engineers, Wild About Utah, April 29, 20-10, August 16, 2012,

Kervin, Linda, Huddling for Warmth, Wild About Utah, February 3, 2011,

Beaver Monitoring App, Utah Water Watch, Extension, Utah State University,

Pollock, M.M., G.M. Lewallen, K. Woodruff, C.E. Jordan and J.M. Castro (Editors) 2018. The Beaver Restoration Guidebook: Working with Beaver to Restore Streams, Wetlands, and Floodplains. Version 2.01. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland, Oregon. 189 pp. Online at:

Macfarlane W.W., Wheaton J.M., and M.L. Jensen. 2014. The Utah Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool: A Decision Support and Planning Tool. Ecogeomorphology and Topographic Analysis Lab, Utah State University, Prepared for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Logan, Utah, 135 pp. Available at:

Wheaton JM. 2013. Scoping Study and Recommendations for an Adaptive Beaver Management Plan. Prepared for Park City
Municipal Corporation. Logan, Utah, 30 pp.

Beaver Reintroduction Looks Positive for Stream Restoration
in Northern Utah, Utah Forest News, USU Forestry Extension, Utah State University, Volume 18, Number 3, 2014,

Muffoletto, Mary-Ann, Dam Good! Beavers May Restore Imperiled Streams, Fish Populations, Today, Utah State University, July 07, 2016,

In the Eyes of a Bear

In the Eyes of a Bear: Lone Bear Courtesy and Copyright Patrick Kelly
Lone Bear
Courtesy and Copyright Patrick Kelly
We call him Old Ephraim up here in Cache Valley. He's a tale known by just about everyone: one of the last brown bears in Utah, shot and killed by Frank Clark, in August, 1923. The account that's usually told spins the bear as both highly intelligent and dastardly, almost even sub-animal, of a creature who is the last because he is the most conniving and monstrous. His death came at the hands of a shepherd who had tracked the bear for nearly a decade, taking over 40 others in his pursuit, only to finally overcome the giant with luck and a repeating rifle. In Old Ephraim's death, he was skinned, burned, and buried. His hide was eaten by moths in the slope of Clark's barn. Today, his skull resides in an exhibit at Utah State University, and his bones have been long poached by treasure hunters. His grave holds no bear but that which we imagine.

What I take away from this story, though, is not what others have typically taken away when I read the accounts. For those long-past authors, it has always been of the glorification of Clark’s struggle; for overcoming the agent of a primeval, and thus incompatible, nature; for the noble easing of future fears by finally taking that monster bear. For me, I take away how Clark, years later, bravely chose to regret his choices, which at the time of their making were too far already decided by habit rather than concise intent. Clark stated about it, “Was I happy? No, and if I had to do it over, I wouldn’t kill him… I could see the suffering in his eyes…” That suffering had been passed on to him, it seems.

Blame for the end of Utah’s last great bear, though, cannot be placed upon the man, nor the firearm, nor the bear. Blame can only be attached to what bonded them as kin: that both man and bear had been dealt their hands by their being, and they played them the only way they had been shown, descendant of a long line of teachers whose most underlying motivation was honest survival. This is what connected the two in the moment of their struggle. They were united by fate because of what made them similar, not different.

In the Eyes of a Bear: Old Ephriam's Grave Marker, The height of the the old grizzley Courtesy & Copyright Josh Bolling
Old Ephriam’s Grave Marker,
The height of the the old grizzley
Courtesy & Copyright Josh Bolling
In his telling of his regret, Clark dared who he was, with who he strove to be, even in his later life. He was, after all, a self-professed lover of nature, and held holy the wild places where he spent dozens of summers. His regret was not a fault, but a truss of strength which honored this deeper value. He understood that, if you allow it, nature will take you to the great questions through flowers and birds and a strenuous life, if even for a small while, and even after you have erred. Nature is a hopeful place; an accepting place. Out there, “its” become “thous”, and the ego and all its fleeting impulsivities are surrendered to the ultimate authority of deep experiences within the land.

Hemingway said that, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” In this reflection, Clark’s story is not only about the fall of a great creature, nor a man who struggled to bring him down, but about how a man painfully earned the bravery and strength to see what he thought set him above, become reflected equal from him, in the knowing eyes of the last great Utah bear.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Images: Image Courtesy & Copyright Patrick Kelly, Photographer, all rights reserved
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center,
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster,

Additional Reading

Greene, Jack, Bears, Wild About Utah, October 22, 2019,

Boling, Josh, Old Ephraim, The Infamous Northern Utah Grizzly, Wild About Utah, August 7, 2017,

Strand, Holly, The Bear Facts Old Ephriam , Wild About Utah, June 17, 2008,

Old Ephraim: The Legendary Grizzly of the Bear River Range, Digital Exhibits, Digital Collections,University Libraries, Utah State University,

Old Ephraim: Utah’s most legendary bear, Lynn Arave, Standard Examiner, July 16, 2015,

Final resting spot of legendary grizzly ‘Old Ephraim’ worth a trip, Kate DuHadway, Herald Journal, Jul 9, 2011,

Old Ephriam’s Grave,