The red squirrel that recently visited my balcony decided to build himself a shelter on the ledge of a nearby window.
Made of moss, hay and pillow filling material laid on a bed of dead Boston-ivy leaves, the round-shaped construction looks cozy but too tight to fit more than one. It was put together in just a few hours—sometimes between the moment I sighted the critter, around lunch time, and the next morning.
What is the exact purpose and nature of this hastily erected retreat: winter shelter, den, nest, drey? I was unable to match it with anything I found online. It would be too small to welcome a brood and the location is definitely hazardous―the store from the neighbor’s window could be fatal if shut down and it is not well protected against the wind.
Since he “moved in”, the rodent has made regular appearances. He goes out during the day to forage in the area around my block and returns “home” before sunset. He is sometimes absent so I suspect he may have another shelter. He often rests inside his retreat with his little nose out to keep careful watch on his surroundings.
To my surprise, another squirrel came to my balcony this morning.
This one’s coat is a beautiful dark brown with mixed shades of silver grey, black and red hair, and a large white patch covering belly and throat. He is remarkably inquisitive and so little fearful of humans that twice he walked on the balcony rail while I was sitting outside. We stared at each other in silence, long enough for me to take a few photographs before he crawled up to the next balcony.
The rest of the time, he eagerly explored the area, jumping from building walls and gutters to neighbors’ balconies, windows, trees and bushes, giving the impression to be everywhere at once… However, his strongest interest appears to be the shelter built by his congener which he examined several times from every possible angle.
Where was the red squirrel at this time? I wondered. Surely they could have smelled each other’s presence if he had been inside his den.
When I later returned to the balcony, I found the red squirrel chasing blackie down the apartment building wall, across the pedestrian lane and further in nearby gardens, up, down and around trees. They ran fast, erratically and often far from one another making it hard to capture them together, but here they are.
Mates or rivals? It is currently mating season for European red squirrels, so mates is probable. What is clear is that the black squirrel is stalking (courting?) the red one and conspicuously establishing his presence within a small perimeter around the shelter.
I found what I believe to be squirrel droppings along my balcony rail which could support the idea of a territorial interaction between the two animals.
The red squirrel rushed back to his shelter after the chase. Before disappearing inside, it stopped on the ledge for a minute and looked down as if to ensure he was alone.