Missouri’s two kinds of tree squirrels, gray and fox, depend upon the right combination of trees for food, shelter, and nesting.
Squirrels thrive in nearly mature or mature forests. They are most attracted to land with at least 50 to 75 nut and shelter trees, such as oak, hickory, walnut, pecan, elm, maple, and mulberry trees.
During drought, squirrels will migrate to within one-quarter to one-half mile of open water, such as a pond or stream, if their local water source dries up.
Wild fire. Uncontrolled burning destroys ground cover and food-producing shrubs, as well as slows regeneration of timber stands. Fire scars on trees develop into butt cavities, which are not suitable for squirrel dens.
Uncontrolled livestock. Continuous grazing removes wildflowers, shrubs, and small trees that produce fruit and nuts. Acorn-eating hogs compete with squirrels and other wildlife.
Improve solid stands of even-aged timber by cutting an occasional tree or group of trees to open up the canopy. This promotes tree crown growth, increases nut production, and improves seedling growth. This encourages different kinds of trees and promotes the growth of uneven-aged stands, insuring a more dependable food supply and natural den development.
The following trees produce food for squirrels and should be given room to grow:
Sycamores, cottonwoods, and hackberries develop den cavities more rapidly than many of the commercial hardwoods.
Young woods with few natural cavities can be enhanced for squirrels with nest boxes made from lumber, old tires, sawmill slabs, or sections of hollow log. Squirrels should have four or more nest cavities per acre. Several other species of wildlife will benefit from these nest structures as well.
Windfalls or downed trees help create ground cover that attracts gray squirrels. Manage the following trees for a good undergrowth:
Leave nut-producing trees in the fencerows and odd corners where possible. Trees and shrubs growing in the open with less competition are thriftier and yield more food than those in forests. Plant the following shrubs for ground cover, food, and protection for squirrels using fencerows as travel lanes:
Contact your private land conservationist for more help improving your rural acreage or farm for squirrels.