This is what the driveway looks like this morning. And it has looked this way about this time in the fall almost every year for decades. The ground is littered with small branches, each one quite neatly trimmed off like someone was sitting up in our trees with a knife.
I knew most of the answer, but a little bit of research revealed both the depth and the dumbness of the internet. Whenever people tell me they read something on the internet, I wonder how much investigation they did.
I knew this was being done by squirrels – it’s hard to miss them sitting up in the trees, even if I seldom see them actually cutting a twig off. But my question was Why? Why about this time every year do squirrels go wild cutting off little branches that they don’t appear to be doing anything with? What were people saying on the internet?
The range of answers was impressive. In no particular order –
- cutting twigs to make nests (or drays or dreys).
- “squirrels are neurotic little creatures and they simply like to do it.”
- they’re hungry
- they’re bored
- to sharpen their teeth (“If a squirrel has been using your trees as massive toothbrushes, you might see many fallen tiny branches surrounding them).
- “they are getting essential nutrients, or perhaps, it just tastes good.”
- “they’re trying to get their sodium requirements.”
- seeking moisture
- and my favorite
- “this behavior is a response to the pain associated with giving birth.”
There were actually more, but this is enough to prove my point. If you read any one of these you might think you had your answer. But the more you read, the more you realize we probably don’t know what this behavior means, or it means many different things, depending on the context it is expressed in.
But the point is, when you look for an answer on the internet, don’t settle for the first answer you find. Look around a bit. Look at who publishes the site. Some of these were from other people’s blogs, others were from agricultural extensions, and some were from arborists. And except for the last answer, I suspect all of them have some part of the truth.
As they used to say on the X-Files – The truth is out there! Which is a good reason to say something about Wikipedia! The Wikipedia page on the X-Files has 253 footnotes! And was last edited this morning at 12:12 am! Wikipedia constantly amazes me with its depth, completeness (comparatively speaking), and accuracy. It is often derided by people for various reasons, but I suspect few of them have really taken a subject, read the page, and then done independent research to confirm or contradict the Wikipedia page. I have, and when I have they are usually the best site for information. And if you use it regularly, you should donate. Really. You should.