The American Red Squirrel loves to munch on seeds, particularly sunflower seeds when these are provided by their human subjects. Sunflower seeds do not occur naturally in the Whitemud Ravine but people distribute sunflower seeds by the bags along the trails so there is always plenty to go around. A diet that predominantly is based on seeds is sometimes referred to as seed predation or granivory. The Red Squirrels are opportunistic and will incorporate a range of food items into their diet such as fruit , berries and fungi. This fella that we encountered along the trail was to busy munching on sunflower seeds to really care about our presence. The light in the picture allows one to clearly see the typical dark band across the bushy tail.
One reason many of the inhabitants at the Whitemud Creek are so comfortable around humans might be the regular treats they receive from us. On any given day it is common to find sunflowers seeds strewn along the trail, placed on stumps, logs and bridge railings. I am a bit ambivalent about this practice. One one hand, it allows adults and children to easily view the squirrels, voles, chickadees, nuthatches and other inhabitants, which clearly serves an educational purpose. On the other hand, sometimes when wildlife associates humans with food bad things happens. I can see this being a valid concerns when feeding (on purpose on inadvertently) large animals such as coyotes, bears and elk, but squirrels and small birds? What harm can a chickadee possibly do? In all fairness, if you will be feeding wildlife, sunflowers seeds are probably the most nutritious foodstuff you could offer them. I am sure there are additional aspects one could discuss, e.g. how does feeding affect survival, breeding success, population dynamics and interactions between animals. Apparently you can be fined if you are found feeding the wildlife at Whitemud Creek. There are stories of the RCMP and park rangers handing out tickets to sunflower-carrying offenders. This fella, however, looked quite grateful for a sunflower seed snack and was not about to issue a ticket.