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Create models of non-intrusive, productive animal research through natural (non-manipulative) observations.


The activities in this unit will acquaint students with the life of the squirrels living in their neighborhood and with their relationship to each other and to their environment. The underlying goal is to increase student respect and concern for, and interest in, other living species.


Squirrels belong to the rodent family. They are mammals having two incisor teeth in each jaw especially adapted for gnawing wood and similar material. Rats, mice, squirrels, porcupines, chipmunks, woodchucks and beavers are rodents. Squirrels are diurnal rodents, which mean they are active by day and sleep at night. They are slender, agile, live in trees, have long, bushy tails and furry coats. Squirrels are herbivores and eat nuts, shoots and bark. There are different species of squirrels including the fox, gray and red squirrel. Semi-domesticated varieties can readily be found in city parks.

When two species of squirrel live in the same area, there is competition between the species. Ecologists call this interspecific competition . There may be competition for the same food sources. It may also be possible to notice differences in food preference in different species.

There is also competition among members of the same species. This leads to the formation of a social order, or hierarchy. Older squirrels are more dominant than younger ones. Males are more dominant than females. When squirrels are trying to show dominance, they will make themselves appear as large as possible by folding their tails over their backs. In appeasement behavior, the ears are laid back and the head is held in while the tail is down. The appeasing animal tries to withdraw or avoid the more dominant one. These behaviors usually result in one animal fleeing without any actual physical contact between the squirrels involved.

Squirrels bury acorns and other seeds. This behavior is called caching. Nuts are buried in the fall and retrieved during the winter when food is less abundant. Some nuts are not found and these may sprout and grow into trees. John Burroughs has suggested that squirrels have planted most of the hickory trees in America.


The teacher can lead the class in several neighborhood walks or class trips to help involve the students in the study of squirrels. (Make it clear to students that observation is the key method that will be used in this study.) Local environmental organizations may also provide trips and speakers. In New York City, the Urban Park Rangers and The Alley Pond Environmental Center may be able to provide needed information.

During walks and trips, students should keep records on their observations. Each child can take a "trip board" (a home-made clip board) with him/her and fill it out during the outing. Informational charts on squirrels can be developed with student input and teacher guidance. Individual students can do additional research, create reports and other products.

Student feeling towards squirrel may vary considerably from fascination and concern to apathy or dislike. One goal of this unit is to help develop student respect and a feeling of responsibility for wildlife and wildlife habitats.

The following activities may be useful in enhancing student exploration.

How many squirrels are present in the area under study? List the number of animals seen on a given route on different occasions and at different times of the day. Repeat this procedure several times. Maintain a chart of these sightings at locations on the route at different times of the day.

  • TIME

How many different species are present in the area under study? Make a graph to keep track. Research the differences between species.


  • SIGHTINGS(Number)


  • At what time of the day do the squirrels eat? If there is more than one species of squirrel, do they eat at the same time? Does the squirrel-s eating time change when the weather changes?
  • What do squirrels prefer to eat? Do squirrels belonging to different species eat the same thing? Do they eat together or do they appear to maintain their own territory?
  • Select specific areas as feeding stations. After placing food at these stations, study what squirrels come to each place and observe who dominates whim. Which animals eat first? Which animals are chased? Do the squirrels that appear older or younger seem more dominant?
  • Do the squirrels eat all the nuts they find or do they bury some? Are nuts buried in one place or in several? Research how squirrels find nuts that are buried.
  • How do squirrels respond to people? How do they interact with birds, dogs and other animals? Are the squirrels behaving as "loners" or do they appear to be in acting groups?
  • Where do squirrels seem to spend most of their time during the observation period?
  • What activities are squirrels engaged in during the course of the observation period? Make a list. Do these activities change on different days or at different times of the day?
  • Students should understand that a habitat is the natural home of an animal or plant and includes all of the living things that make it a suitable place for the animal or plant to live. Students should identify the integral parts of the squirrel-s habitat - including air, water, food, shelter and protection from enemies. Students can list ways that they can demonstrate respect for squirrels and their habitat, including leaving the animals - home unharmed (and untouched), not polluting the habitat and maintaining a respectful distance during observations.
  • Students can discuss and list what they could do to protect squirrel habitats to ensure that squirrels continue to live in the area.


The students can use information gathered in the activities in this unit, as well as from additional research, to:

  1. Write a report and develop charts and graphs on squirrel populations and behavior. It would be helpful if reports include drawings or photographs.
  2. Describe a habitat that could successfully maintain squirrels. The students could list ways in which humans could help to maintain the habitat as well as factors that could lead to the destruction of the squirrels- habitat. Photographs, drawings, a mural, charts, a diorama or other three-dimensional structure, as well as the use of audiotape and videotape, can be used.


  • Bare, Colleen, Tree Squirrels, Putnam, U.S.A., 1983.
  • McConoughey, Jana, Squirrel Habits and Habitat, Macmillan, U.S.A., 1983.
  • Wildsmith, Brian, Squirrels, Oxford Press, U.S.A., 1987.