Planting fruit trees for ground squirrels
The main source of food for ground squirrels are the various parts of different herbs and grasses. Fruits, however, can be a very energetic, supplementary food source, available at a critical time of the year when the ground squirrels are preparing for their winter hibernation. Ground squirrel metabolism is quite remarkable as in a short period pre-hibernation, they can gain up to half of their body weight in fatty deposits. This subcutaneous fat is then gradually consumed throughout the seven months they spend hibernating.
Fruits trees are now scattered across our agricultural landscape, unfavourable habitat for ground squirrels. Orchards on the other hand, are an area where ground squirrels can thrive due to grassy meadows in between trees and the opportunity to consume ripe fruit. As their name suggests, ground squirrels will only take advantage of the fallen fruit as they do not climb trees like their tree dwelling cousins! They will also build burrows under or nearby trees to keep close to the fruit. Starting in July till the end of September, ground squirrels slowly head underground to hibernate. First are the years non-reproducing males and females, second are the years reproducing females and eventually, the last to hibernate are the young born earlier in the year. This schedule all depends on how successful individuals have been in fattening up for the winter and from as early as June, they could be searching for additional, highly calorific foods. Fruits such as cherries and apricots which ripen in the early summer can therefore be a vital addition to their diet and could directly relate to their overwintering survival.
Although there is a limited number of fruit trees in our agricultural landscape, the ones left are absolutely amazing. Like any tree, they provide shade, habitat for many different species such as beetles, birds nest in their hollows and branches, and they also provide fruit for humans, ground squirrels and other animals. With all this in mind, we organised tree planting across two different areas. In the autumn of 2019 five fruit trees were planted on the outskirts of the local airport in Miroslav and 15 trees in the terraces of Velké Pavlovice. Members of the Aeroklubu Miroslav and Vinařství Krejčiřík from Velké Pavlovice and will look after these trees going forward.
So which fruit trees are best? Initially, it is advised to vary the types of trees planted so there is a variety of fruit yet also variety in when the fruits are ripe. This means the ground squirrels have access to more supplementary food across a longer period of time. For example, trees such as Burlat cherry or Wild cherry ripen early in the season whilst Kaštánka ripen later in June. After this, throughout July apricots start to ripen. Also, early ripening pears or apples with small fruits such as Nagevic or Krvavka may also be suitable.
This action was completed with the project Sousliks for the landscape, landscape for sousliks - Monitoring and supporting the population of European ground squirrel in South Moravia II. Funded from ERDF / state budget. It is also published with the support of the Ministry of the Environment (MoE). The project does not have to express the views of the MoE.