• Bandelier Short-horned Lizard

    Bandelier

    National Monument New Mexico

Abert's Squirrel

Abert's squirrel

Abert's squirrels favorite food is the cones of Ponderosa pine trees.

NPS Photo by Sally King

Abert's squirrels are unique mammals found anywhere in the monument where there are enough Ponderosa pine trees to supply their nutritional needs. Identified by their dark gray backs with a red-brown patch, white bellies, and long fluffy white tails the most destinctive feature of Abert's squirrels are their big tufted ears. Abert's squirrels feed on the cones, buds, and twigs of Ponderosa pine trees as well as fungus and tree sap. With no apparent fear of heights, they can often be seen high in trees scurrying from branch to branch looking for food.
 
Abert's squirrel

Abert's squirrels rotate Ponderosa Pine cones as they eat them much like we rotate an ear of corn when we eat it.

NPS Photo by Sally King

Feeding Habits
Abert's squirrels favorite food is the cones of the Ponderosa Pine. They will turn the cone slowly, much like you may rotate an ear of corn as you eat it, peeling away the cone scales to reach the meaty seeds. The new buds and inner bark of the Ponderosa are also quickly consumed by the squirrel. You may think this would be bad for the Ponderosa, however, Abert's also eat ectomycorrhizal fungi. A byproduct of this feeding activity spreads the spores of the fungi around. As it turns out this fungi is very beneficial to the survival of the Ponderosa and the Abert's squirrel serve a vital function in the proliferation of the fungi. The relationship between plant and animal is very interesting and complex.
 
Mule deer eating ponderosa twigs

Mule deer quickly eat the Ponderosa pine twigs dropped to the ground by feeding Abert's squirrels.

NPS Photo by Sally King

Abert's Squirrels and Mule Deer
The eating habits of Abert's squirrels also prove beneficial to mule deer. When the squirrels eat the buds and shoots of the Ponderosa pine they chew off whole twigs. The uneaten portion they drop to the ground many feet below. You can tell where Abert's squirrels have been active by the debris below the Ponderosa pines. The mule deer seem to relish this tree-top treat and quickly consume the messy Abert's trash.
 
abert collects nesting material

Abert's squirrels build nests high in Ponderosa pine trees and line them with pine duff to make warm homes.

NPS Photo by Sally King

Squirrel Nests, Not Bird Nests
Abert's squirrels build nests high up in Ponderosa pine trees. The nests look similar to a large, messy bird nest. The Abert's collect plant materials including pine duff to line their lofty abode and create a warm, snuggly home. Here, in late spring or early summer, female Abert's give birth to their tiny, pink hairless babies. Young Abert's emerge from these sanctuaries by August and begin to collect food for the winter along side their parents.
 
Abert's squirrel

In early spring Abert's squirrels can be seen eating the maple syrup-like sap of boxelder trees.

NPS Photo by Sally King

Sweet-toothed Abert's
In early spring, just as the sap begins to flow in the trees, Abert's squirrel have an interesting addition to their diets. You can often spot an Abert's squirrel clinging to the side of a boxelder tree licking the bark, and the gooey sap below, with their tongue. Boxelder trees are members of the maple family, and have a sweet sap similar to maple syrup. Abert's Squirrels may have developed a sweet tooth by eating this high-energy treat, if only for a short period in the early spring.

 
Abert's Squirrel in summer

During summer months, adult Abert's Squirrels shed their distinctive ear tufts.

NPS Photo by Sally King

A Summer Coat
In summer, Abert's Squirrels shed their distinctive tasseled ears and their thick winter coat. Since an Abert's ears are still somewhat larger than other squirrel's ears, they still have a very unique appearance. When baby Abert's Squirrels emerge from the nest in late summer, they can easily be distinguished from their parents because they will already have the ear tufts they will continue to wear through the long winter months.

Printable Abert's Squirrel Fact Sheet (PDF)

 
abert eats 4
An Abert's Squirrel eats ponderosa seeds in Cottonwood Picnic Area.
Photo by Sally King
 
summer abert with cone
A summer-time Abert's Squirrel with a ponderosa pinecone.
Photo by Sally King
 
abert with mushroom
An Abert's Squirrel eats a mushroom in Frijoles Canyon.
Photo by Sally King

Did You Know?

Upper Falls

Frijoles Creek drops approximately 80 feet over the Upper Falls. The falls occur where the waters of Frijoles Creek hit the more resistant, dense basalt rock from the neck of an ancient volcano.