Friday, February 21, 2014

Squirrel Studies Beneath the Birdfeeder

Squirrels are pretty smart. Not only can they figure out the best route to your birdfeeder, but they remember where they’ve hidden nuts.

You don’t need to build a maze to test your backyard squirrels’ IQ, but you do need to think like a squirrel. For example, which is better: a big nut or a little nut? To find out, create a “squirrel feeding area” and offer your neighborhood squirrels their choice of peanuts of walnuts. Put ten of each out and count how many are left after each squirrel visit. Then replace so you have 10 of each.

Can squirrels associate food with a specific container? Since squirrels can see color, you might offer peanuts in a white cup and filberts in a black cup. Do they show a preference for one container over another? If they do, what happens when you put the nuts in the wrong container?

Squirrels can open a box and figure out how to get in vending machines, but can they learn how to open a plastic jar? If you have a large wide-mouthed plastic jar, put peanuts inside it and leave the lid off. Let the squirrels learn to associate the jar with food. Then put the lid on, but not very tight. Do your squirrels figure out how to turn the lid? Let me know if they do, because my squirrels got frustrated and bit the lid off my jar.
Check out other science resources and book reviews at the STEM Friday blog.

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