The number of squirrels in Texas has decreased dramatically

We’re approaching the second anniversary of Winter Storm Uri, a vicious climate system Texans will not quickly overlook. The storm battered Texas in February 2021 with snow, ice, and file low temperatures that dipped beneath freezing for days on finish.

Many who lived by the polar vortex will bear in mind it as a chaotic week when Texas froze over and all kinds of issues adopted that affected tens of millions of individuals in addition to fish and wildlife.

Vital fish kills have been documented alongside the Texas coast. Songbirds died. The doves misplaced their toes and ft on account of frostbite.

In central and southern Texas, unique animals resembling black antelope and axis deer are notably hit. Each are subtropical species from India barely accustomed to residing for days of single-digit climate. Some farms have reported dropping as much as 60% of their flocks.

It seems that chipmunk numbers in components of the state have additionally been declining these days. Though wildlife specialists with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Service cannot definitively level to a trigger for the decline, they do know from expertise that chipmunk populations are periodic and delicate to modifications in environmental situations, good or dangerous.

Squirrels are notably conscious of mast manufacturing, in accordance with TPWD wildlife biologist Kyle Bronson of Athens. Bronson says the numbers are prone to rise after the bumper acorn harvest within the fall. Lows are sometimes adopted by a bustier crop.

Excessive climate occasions do not bode effectively for squirrels both.

“Freezing can hurt them badly and dehydration can hurt them badly,” Bronson mentioned. “The excellent news is that they often rebound fairly shortly.”

Bronson is an eight-year TPWD veteran and oversees the 11,000-acre Gus Engeling Wildlife Administration Space in Anderson County. Engeling is amongst TPWD’s 50 oldest and most intensively managed WMAs.

The pristine Put up Oak Savannah Island is a mecca for grey squirrels (cat squirrels) and fox squirrels. Cat squirrels are the extra ample of the 2, and Bronson says their numbers have dropped dramatically since 2020.
He has the information to again it up, too.

Annual census

WMA wildlife biologists have performed annual censuses of cat squirrels and foxes for many years. Brunson has dependable development line information for comparability going again to 1961.

The biologist says that the inhabitants census is taken each September. Here is how:

Scientists stroll 5 one-mile strains throughout the WMA. They sit and observe the squirrels for quarter-hour at six completely different stops alongside every line.

Inhabitants strains are walked twice, all the time on successive mornings. The rely is all the time made simply after dawn, when the sky is obvious with gentle or no wind—optimum situations for squirrel motion.

Biologists rely the variety of squirrels seen at every station. This supplies a squirrel-per-acre estimate for every plant. The numbers from all strains are averaged to reach at a “squirrel per acre” density.

spiral downward

Curiously, censuses taken earlier than and after the 2021 Large Freeze point out a surprising drop in cat squirrel numbers within the WMA. In line with Bronson, the rely confirmed 4.68 squirrels per acre in fall 2020, the second-highest complete relationship again to 1977.

Regardless of a bumper acorn harvest that 12 months (2020), census statistics point out that chipmunks numbers had escalated to 1.68 squirrels per acre by September 2021. The newest TPWD rely from September 2022 exhibits the quantity had dropped to 0.36 squirrels per acre – a lower about 92% from 2020 and the bottom quantity recorded since 1989. The very best complete relationship again to 1977 was 6.73 squirrels per acre in 2002.

As talked about earlier, biologists do not know for certain whether or not or not the Large Freeze in February 2021 was the primary purpose behind the decline in chipmunk numbers within the Gus Engeling WMA. Nonetheless, Bronson says Mom Nature could not be exhibiting her tough head at a worse time.

Nesting season hit

Squirrels have two peak breeding/nesting seasons in Texas – from July to September and December to February. The younger are reared in outside nests constructed of leaves when hole tree dens aren’t obtainable. Younger are born bare, with out fur. They keep within the nest for about six weeks.

“The freeze occurred in the midst of the nesting season — it is a actually dangerous time,” Bronson mentioned. “We won’t say for certain, however we expect it took out a bunch of younger folks and lots of adults too. We expect lots of them froze to demise.”

Gus Engeling’s wildlife biologists aren’t the one ones seeing fewer squirrels nowadays. Rusty Wooden, TPWD’s Pineywoods Space Chief, says he is been fielding weekly cellphone calls from squirrel hunters across the space questioning the place all of the squirrels have gone.

I used to be considering the identical factor. The underside of the hardwood behind our home is often teeming with squirrels in the course of the fall and winter. It was like a ghost forest this 12 months. The excellent news is that issues will change. They all the time do.

Spar was plentiful this fall. Squirrels are versatile creatures. They are going to come again.

Matt Williams is a contract author based mostly in Nacogdoches. He could be reached at mattwillwrite4u@yahoo.com.

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