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Something Wild: Scatter Hoarders

You may be familiar with hoarders (not the TV show, but same idea).  In nature, a hoarder will hide food in one place.  Everything it gathers will be stored in a single tree or den.  But for some animals one food cache isn't enough.  We call them scatter hoarders.

A "scatter hoarder" hides food in a bunch of different places within its territory.  The gray squirrel is a classic example, gathering acorns and burying them in trees or in the ground.  Not all squirrels are hoarders.  Red squirrels are plain old hoarders.  If you've ever been walking through the woods and a red squirrel starts screaming at you, it's defending its one and only stash.  The same goes for chipmunks and white-footed mice.

The gray squirrel isn't alone in the practice of scatter hoarding.  Blue jays and gray jays will spend the summer accosting hikers, filling itself with as much granola or fruit as it can.  They bring their bounty back into the forest and glue the food into crevices of the trees with its saliva.  I know, who spits on their food?!  Well, the gray squirrel.  They will lick their acorns before burying them.  Since squirrels haven't quite mastered the science of cartography, tracking down food stashes in the winter can be challenging.  Their saliva acts as an olfactory signpost - they can smell the spit through the snow and frost.  The only problem is other squirrels may smell the cache and steal the food.  

At first glance, this may not seem like the best strategy but it does work, and gray squirrels aren't the only ones who have to deal with such theft.  A tufted titmouse will grab seeds from a feeder, fly off and stash it in a tree, only to have a red-breasted nuthatch come along and take those seeds.  So how is this behavior effective?

A scatter hoarder has cache sites all over their territory; they don't put all their eggs in one basket.  Sure, some of their food will be forgotten or stolen over the winter, but the goal is to have so much food they'll still have enough to get through the winter.  And as for the buried nuts that no one finds, they are planting the next forest.  When those trees mature, they will provide food for future generations of hoarders and scatter hoarders.

Music 

Ric Seaberg - "The Hoarder Song"                                                                                            http://www.ricseaberg.com/

Red squirrel - NOT a scatter hoarder
Šarūnas Burdulis via Flickr /
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Red squirrel - NOT a scatter hoarder
Gray jay - a scatter hoarder
Aaron Maizlish via Flickr /
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Gray jay - a scatter hoarder
Red-breasted nuthatch - a scatter hoarder
Distant Hill Gardens via Flickr /
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Red-breasted nuthatch - a scatter hoarder
Bluejay - a scatter hoarder
Colleen P via Flickr /
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Bluejay - a scatter hoarder
Tufted titmouse - a scatter hoarder
Distant Hill Gardens via Flickr /
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Tufted titmouse - a scatter hoarder

Copyright 2015 New Hampshire Public Radio

Dave Anderson is the Director of Education and Volunteer Services for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, where he has worked for more than 19 years. He is responsible for the design and delivery of conservation education programs including field trips, tours and presentations to Forest Society members, conservation partners and the general public.
Chris Martin has worked with New Hampshire Audubon for more than 19 years as a Senior Biologist in the organization's Conservation Department. His work has focused primarily on monitoring and management of New Hampshire's endangered or threatened birds, especially birds of prey such as bald eagles, ospreys, and peregrine falcons. A wildlife biologist with almost 30 years of diverse experience, Martin has climbed to bald eagle nests in Alaska's Katmai National Park, counted seabirds near the Aleutian Islands, coordinated peregrine falcon restoration at Isle Royale in Lake Superior, helped research a wildlife habitat field guide in Minnesota, and studied how a southern Indiana forest responded after a devastating tornado. Since moving to New Hampshire in 1990, Martin has worked frequently with colleagues at the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and other agencies to recruit, train, and deploy volunteer wildlife observers when and where they are needed. He has advised electric utiliies on how to establish safe nesting sites for ospreys, partnered with rock climbers to collect peregrine falcon egg samples to check for environmental contaminants, and documented New Hampshire's only known breeding population of American pipits in the alpine zone on Mt. Washington. In 2006, Martin received an Environmental Merit Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Boston for his outstanding efforts in preserving New England's environment. “I view my role as one of documenting what's going on with wildlife populations in the Granite State, and also providing folks with the knowledge and training they need to make meaningful wildlife observations out there on their own. That's one of the reasons I find contributing to Something Wild to be so enjoyable.”
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