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Nest Site Selection by Western Gray Squirrels at Their Northern Range Terminus

Category: Wildlife Research and Management - Wildlife Research

Date Published:  2010

Number of Pages: 8

Author(s): Sara C. Gregory (University of Washington), W. Matthew Vander Haegen (WDFW), Wan Ying Chang (WDFW), Stephen D. West (University of Washington)

The western gray squirrel (Sciurus griseus) in Washington, USA, is limited to 3 disjunct areas and is a state threatened species. Information is lacking for the North Cascades population, which is the northernmost population for the species. Squirrels in this population exist without oaks (Quercus spp.) that provide forage and cavities for maternal nests elsewhere in their range. During May 2003 to August 2005, we studied selection of nest sites and nest trees by 18 radiocollared squirrels in Okanogan County, Washington. Without oak cavities, females reared their young in dreys. General nest-tree characteristics were similar to characteristics of western gray squirrel nest trees in Southeastern Cascades: relatively tall ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa) >40 cm diameter at breast height. Results from conditional logistic models determined that the odds of a squirrel selecting a tree for nesting increased with greater diameter at breast height and with infection by dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium spp.). Nest sites with high selection probability by squirrels had greater basal area and number of tree species than available unselected sites. Retention of forest patches that include a mix of conifer species or conifer and deciduous trees and moderate to high basal area could promote nesting opportunities, connectivity for arboreal travel, as well as abundance and diversity of hypogeous fungi. Experiments to test the efficacy of retaining untreated patches of varying size (including trees infected with mistletoe) on nesting by western gray squirrels within stands managed for fire suppression and forest health would provide important information about the effects of forest fuel management on arboreal wildlife.