Squirrels are food gatherers and hoarders -- they like to stockpile their supplies so they don't run out of food. Because of this habitual gathering, a squirrel may spend days gathering and storing food, then stay in his nest for several days at a time. It's a useful skill during colder weather, but he doesn't gather all of his food in one place -- sometimes, he has to track down food that he's gathered and hidden throughout the neighborhood.
Sense of Smell
While squirrels can use visual cues and their memories to find food, they generally rely first and foremost on their sense of smell. Squirrels have a relatively powerful sense of smell, which they use for tracking down nuts, seeds, human refuse and more. Whether it's up for grabs in the open environment or food that another animal has buried, the squirrel will sniff it out and take it for his own.
Using his sense of smell, the squirrel finds whatever food he can get his paws on. These gatherers are opportunistic little rodents, and they won't hesitate to steal from other animals or even each other in the pursuit of food. While they typically stick to a vegetarian diet, they'll also chow down on insects, bird eggs or even nest-bound baby birds.
Gathering and Hiding
Squirrels don't just gather the food they need at that moment -- they gather and stock up for the future. These rodents take up residence in nests that offer storage space, like the hollow of a tree, an empty animal burrow or a house's attic. When a squirrel gathers food like nuts, seeds, acorns and berries, he carries them in his mouth back to his nest, where he stores them. Alternatively, he may bury food in the ground at different places around the neighborhood, where his sense of smell later leads him to unearth it.
Lost and Found
A squirrel's memory and sense of smell aren't perfect, so sometimes he hoards food that he never finds again. When he buries food, he doesn't always return to it, which provides other animals fodder for gathering. Since squirrels are unscrupulous scavengers, they won't hesitate to steal from another's stores. If nobody uncovers the hidden food, it stays there; buried and forgotten seeds may even grow into new plants and trees.
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.