By Melissa Wynn
Did you ever wonder how our furry and feathered forest friends survive the snowy Sierra winter? We like to have the freezer and pantry stocked when the snow begins fly, and so do many of our local critters.
The act of animals storing food for winter is known as hoarding or cacheing. Just like people shop and store their food differently so it goes with creatures as well. Some, like our local Gray Squirrel, bury their stash of collected nuts and acorns underground in several locations. Scientists dub this behavior “scatter hoarding”. A wise plan, if one stash spot is raided by another hungry squirrel the wise Gray Squirrel has another close by.
Others, like the Red and Pine Squirrel prefer the “larder hoarder” method and keep their harvest in a single stock pile. They dig shallow pits, called middens, and cover them with leaves or other ground cover. Not so wise, one raid and it could be a tough season.
We have all seen the squirrels busy preparing for winter but they are far from alone in the animal kingdom. Many wildcats including bobcats and mountain lions will bury small prey for later, especially during seasons of plenty. The feline keen sense of smell makes locating it later a breeze.
The cunning Red Fox likes to save bones and sometimes eggs in shallow holes for times of slimmer pickings. They too prefer the scatter method as they are also frequently robbed. Winter in the Sierra means the spoils go to opportunist.
Birds too have their share of hoarders. The most famous in our area are the busy flocks of Acorn Woodpeckers. These feathered food hoarders gather acorns by the hundreds and wedge them into holes they’ve meticulously pecked in a tree trunk or telephone pole. These avian pantries are unmistakable, looking as if someone came along with a power drill and filled the tree trunk with long rows of holes and plugged each one with an acorn.
Many insects are also snug and prepared this winter. Remember those ants that got their share of your 4th of July picnic? This January they will still be enjoying your famous fried chicken. These hard working gatherers even harvest mushrooms and other wild forest foods. Our sweet little friends, the honey bees, were busy all summer filling the hive with honey to keep their tiny tummies full until spring. Everyone has been busy, busy, like the bees.
Are you stocked up for winter? The critters have their pantries prepared with plenty.
Some facts courtesy of