This morning I noticed a small red squirrel foraging under our feeders. Its coat was clearly in mid-molt, which can be seen especially in the photos below.
An information sheet about the red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) from Northern State University in South Dakota states:
This species of squirrel molts its fur coat twice each year. The summer coat appears in late spring and is brownish red on the back and sides and white on the belly. The tail is reddish on top and gray underneath. A ring of white fur around the eye is characteristic of this species. The winter coat comes in by September and is denser and longer than the summer fur. In winter, a red stripe stretches from neck to tail and the tail fur becomes more reddish on top. Reddish brown tufts of fur develop near the ears for winter also.
I hadn't realized that red squirrels really are redder in the winter, though they certainly look very red in contrast to the snow.
The Minnesota DNR says the red squirrel is found throughout Minnesota but is most common in coniferous forests. They eat conifer seeds, acorns, mushrooms, hickory nuts, walnuts and maple seeds. They clearly enjoy the seeds that fall from our bird feeders (primarily sunflower at this location), as well.
I've previously written about red squirrels making tunnels in the snow. Fortunately, our recent snow has almost completely disappeared.
This squirrel could well be supporting babies right now. The Minnesota DNR says:
Red squirrels mate in late winter. They nest in hollow trees or build a 12- to 19-inch ball-shaped nest in a tree top using leaves, twigs and bark. In early spring, females have two to five babies which are born hairless and weigh less than an ounce. The young squirrels are independent within 12 weeks.In late May two years ago, I captured some video of young red squirrels playing at the foot of a tree near our house.