Managing timber stands could make woods more attractive for ol’ bushytail

Published 5:31 pm Thursday, October 13, 2022

STARKVILLE — Habitat management is important in the hunter or landowner’s efforts to maintain a quality wildlife population. While it is often considered for deer, turkey and waterfowl populations, squirrels can benefit from proper management. 

Small game biologist Rick Hamrick said it is often taken for granted but squirrels can benefit from intensive management. There are a few things hunters can do to help their squirrel herd. Gray squirrels might use really open hardwood timber stands but providing cover can help them. 

“Putting cover on the ground might make them a little more attractive to squirrels. It could be as simple as felling some trees to put some tops on the ground and create gaps for sunlight,” Hamrick said. “This allows for some ground cover growth and a reassurance that some selective hardwood timber harvest and patch cuts are okay for squirrels.” 

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The other species of squirrel in Mississippi is the fox squirrel. These benefit from similar management practices. He said thinning and burning pine woods can be a good place to start as fox squirrels prefer open spaces. He added it was important for landowners to keep some hardwoods for mast production. 

Squirrel habitat management coincides with management practices for deer and turkeys. They need cover, open areas and mature hardwoods. Owners who are hesitant to start chopping down trees or looking for a good place to start can take out shade trees in the mid canopy or trees who do not produce mast crops. 

“This gives squirrels cover to duck into and allows sunlight to hit the ground which encourages plant growth. It creates a jungle area where they can find shelter and food from fungi, mushrooms and berries,” he said. “They utilize those areas. There are certain times of the year where they have to go to the ground. They have to find acorns they buried in the ground and they will go back to recover them throughout the year. Cover gives them protection from hawks.” 

Another way to help the squirrel habitat is to retain hollow trees especially if someone is not concerned with maximizing timber production. Squirrels build leaf nests in the south which they use for most of the year but hollow tree dens help in the winter. It gives squirrels another place to duck into for cover when hawks, or humans, prey on them.