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 document 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 toes as a consequence of frostbite.

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

It seems that chipmunk numbers in elements of the state have additionally been declining currently. Though wildlife consultants 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 adjustments in environmental circumstances, good or unhealthy.

Squirrels are significantly attentive to mast manufacturing, in line with TPWD wildlife biologist Kyle Bronson of Athens. Bronson says the numbers are more likely to rise after the bumper acorn harvest within the fall. Lows are sometimes adopted by a bustier crop.

Excessive climate occasions do not bode nicely for squirrels both.

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

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 Publish Oak Savannah Island is a mecca for grey squirrels (cat squirrels) and fox squirrels. Cat squirrels are the extra plentiful of the 2, and Bronson says their numbers have dropped dramatically since 2020.
He has the info 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 pattern line knowledge for comparability going again to 1961.

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

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

Inhabitants traces are walked twice, at all times on successive mornings. The depend is at all times made simply after dawn, when the sky is obvious with gentle or no wind—optimum circumstances for squirrel motion.

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

spiral downward

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

Regardless of a bumper acorn harvest that yr (2020), census statistics point out that chipmunks numbers had escalated to 1.68 squirrels per acre by September 2021. The newest TPWD depend from September 2022 reveals 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 whole 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 Huge Freeze in February 2021 was the primary motive behind the decline in chipmunk numbers within the Gus Engeling WMA. Nonetheless, Bronson says Mom Nature could not be displaying 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 out of doors 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 unhealthy time,” Bronson mentioned. “We won’t say for certain, however we expect it took out a bunch of younger individuals and numerous adults too. We predict numerous 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 telephone 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 normally teeming with squirrels in the course of the fall and winter. It was like a ghost forest this yr. The excellent news is that issues will change. They at all times do.

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

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

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