Rocky the rock squirrel raids the day

Showdown between a rock squirrel and a gila monster at Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Photo by Dot Coffey

On the desert ridge behind our home the rock squirrels reign supreme. They scamper across the boulders in broad daylight, piercing the quiet with their shrill warning whistles when coyotes or red-tail hawks come hunting. The slender branches of the mesquite trees dip crazily under the squirrels’ weight as they greedily stuff their cheek pouches with the choicest of beans. Bounding across the rocks, they stash the seeds in secret hidey holes. Many a tree has gotten its start this way.
From high on the boulders the rock squirrels have a fine view of my garden and come boldly to devour whatever small crop I’m nurturing. Rock squirrels enjoy a broad menu of delicacies and will indulge in fruits and berries of many native plants, insects, carrion, small birds and even other rodents.
Nearly a foot long, the rock squirrel is the largest of Arizona’s three ground squirrels. His impressive tail adds another 8-10 inches to his length and is used for balance and surely dramatic flourish. Rock squirrels live in rocky canyon lands in the wild, but are not above moving in among humans, burrowing with sharp claws under sidewalks and tree roots in urban and suburban areas. The burrow is a work in progress, enlarged every year with new apartments and entrances. The squirrels spend the winter snug in these expansive digs, perhaps plotting raids on spring gardens. Late spring brings mating season and after a thirty day gestation the females give birth to passels of 5-7 squirmy pups.
The debut of the young rock squirrels coincides quite well with the emergence of the coyote pups and the fledging red-tail hawks. A balance will be reached. On the Desert Museum website Pinau Merlin describes a scene between a rock squirrel and a hungry snake, telling how the squirrel stands its ground, stamping its feet and waving its tail to frighten the predator away. If that fails, Rocky kicks dirt in the face of the snake and makes a quick get away.


2 responses to “Rocky the rock squirrel raids the day

  1. Yes, I feel your pain. I have had to learn to share with the squirrels or deprive them of my efforts by no gardening at all…the little beggers!
    Nicely done, my friend.

  2. too cute….love the kicking sand in the snakes face part…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s