The ground squirrels are emerging from their winter homes. On this morning’s walk, we saw this fellow right near the road who seemed not to know that most two-leggers (us) are not very nice to his kind. He waited till we were probably no more than five feet from him before he ducked into his burrow. We continued the walk and on our way back he was out on the road again, begging to be photographed. I obliged, but told him not to expect any prints; he’d have to get on the Internet to see himself.
These squirrels easily lose their fear of humans. Every day during the summer of 1998 I was feeding a supplement to White Horse, one of our oldest retired horses. I poured the feed into a trough that was very low to the ground, and 14 squirrels would hop right over my feet and into the trough to stuff their fat cheeks with as much as they could before I stepped in, waded through them and tossed them out so the horse could get something to eat. The problem was solved when I switched to a higher feed trough.
You’d think that having a large squirrel population would attract rattlesnakes. Once they’re mature, ground squirrels are immune to the venom, and can harrass the snakes to the degree that they flee. And I’m sure that if they managed to kill a snake, they would eat it, being omnivorous. Here is a good article in Scientific American on the squirrels’ unique use of their tails to ward off rattlers. Some rattlesnakes manage to get by the squirrels’ defenses to get to the babies, which don’t have venom immunity and make up a large part of their diet.