Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The squirrels are at it again

with 50 comments

What the fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) are at again is eating some of the little red fruits from the yaupon trees (Ilex vomitoria) in Austin. Here’s a piece of the action right outside my computer room window on January 19th. Notice that while this squirrel held on to the trunk of an Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei) with its right paw it used its left paw to pull a cluster of yaupon fruits against its mouth so it could bite one off.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 27, 2018 at 4:46 AM

50 Responses

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  1. Love this! Thanks for sharing.


    January 27, 2018 at 7:31 AM

    • You’re welcome. Have you seen squirrels in Austin doing this? You can expand your collection of monkey toes to include squirrel paws.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2018 at 7:40 AM

      • I absolutely love squirrels. We moved from a neighborhood that had them everywhere to one that is newer and doesn’t hardly have any. I miss watching them.


        January 27, 2018 at 8:12 AM

        • Is there anything you can do to entice squirrels into your new neighborhood?

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 27, 2018 at 8:23 AM

          • I want to put a feeder out but I also want to start a vegetable garden and am thinking it may be a blessing in disguise not to have them around!


            January 27, 2018 at 10:09 AM

            • That may be the better course of action after all. I’ve heard of people resorting to various devices to keep squirrels from taking the seeds intended for birds.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 27, 2018 at 10:15 AM

  2. Sweet.


    January 27, 2018 at 7:47 AM

  3. What a great capture of one of my favorite beasties: aware of your presence, but fully committed to those berries.

    I don’t want to go off on a tangent, but one of the things I like about the photo is the way the diagonal line of the trunk is almost touching the circle formed by the curved yaupon branches.


    January 27, 2018 at 7:49 AM

    • Going off on a tangent to talk about geometry is fine by me, especially with regard to a touching photograph. In fact I’m going to go off on an arithmetical tangent myself, as you’ll see in tomorrow’s post.

      I knew you’d enjoy the picture, given your pet squirrel history. A day or two earlier, I saw a squirrel pull off a twig with several yaupon fruits on it and scamper away with the cluster, presumably to eat them one at a time at its leisure, or perhaps bury them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2018 at 8:20 AM

  4. A beautiful shot. I have seen them hanging by just their back legs and eating. When my daughter was little she used to tell me that we had flying squirrels and I would always say no we don’t. Then I watched them jump from one thin branch to another and sure enough they “flew” a short distance. It is good to be the squirrel!

    automatic gardener

    January 27, 2018 at 7:52 AM

    • A squirrel is a lot safer jumping from one thin branch to another than we could ever be, and often at a speed that we can hardly follow with our eyes and human brains. You may have seen some of those films from the early 20th century where a man straps on large artificial wings and attempts to fly by flapping while jumping from the top of a haystack or barn or other high place. Ah, futility.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2018 at 8:31 AM

  5. This is the sweetest photo ever.

    Martha Goudey

    January 27, 2018 at 7:58 AM

    • Thanks for upping the ante from an earlier comment of “sweet” to “the sweetest photo ever.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2018 at 8:32 AM

  6. Aw, you know I love the squirrels. This is a fantastic photo! I’m really drawn to the eye of that little critter and the pop of red in the berries.


    January 27, 2018 at 8:01 AM

    • That dark, shiny eye appeals to me, too. Your comment about being drawn to it drew me to zoom in on the original photograph just now to see whether I might be reflected in the eye, but even at a distance of only a few feet I was too far away.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2018 at 8:46 AM

  7. What a great shot. I see a childrens’ tale – – the Yuletide Squirrel Comes Visiting. There’s a holly bush/tree next to my kitchen porch at home, but I’ve never seen the squirrels eating the berries like that, even though they come up on the porch, where the birdseed is kept.

    Robert Parker

    January 27, 2018 at 8:30 AM

    • I was grateful for the picture, given that I had to shoot through glass that could use a good cleaning on the outside. Thanks to Photoshop for some digital cleaning.

      If you’ve a mind, you should write your children’s tale about the Yuletide squirrel. It could be the big hit of 2018.

      The yaupon is a native holly. Do you know whether the holly by your kitchen porch at home is native to New York? If it’s not, that might be a reason why local squirrels don’t eat its fruits. Or maybe they do and you just haven’t seen them doing it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2018 at 8:54 AM

      • I think it’s a cultivated variety (you know, reads Harper’s, Vogue, etc) I’ll have to check the Squirrel Security Cam to see what they’ve been up to

        Robert Parker

        January 27, 2018 at 8:58 AM

        • Okay, we’ll await your cultivated report to find out if there’s a vogue for squirrels to eat non-native holly fruits.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 27, 2018 at 9:51 AM

  8. So I take it the squirrels can eat the berries without the suggested outcome? This is a very attractive photo of a squirrel. We have so many grey squirrels it is hard for me to get excited about them. We used to have red squirrels too but the grey squirrels out-competed them. We do still have a small population of flying squirrels, though.


    January 27, 2018 at 9:49 AM

    • As far as I can tell, the squirrels in my neighborhood are fox squirrels (Sciurus niger). From what I’ve read, the species name for yaupon reflects the fact that drinking a very strong brew of the leaves can lead to vomiting. Yaupon is apparently the only plant native to the United States that has caffeine in it, so a milder brew of its leaves serves as a replacement for conventional tea:


      I’ve not heard of people ingesting the fruits in any form. As you suggested, animals can eat plants that humans can’t. A classic example is poison ivy, whose small fruits various animals eat with impunity.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2018 at 9:59 AM

      • That isn’t a tea I’d venture to drink. I did think it looked like a fox squirrel but I wasn’t sure if you’d have a different, Texas specific species. I miss the fox squirrels although grey squirrels sometimes have pure black populations that are gorgeous.


        January 28, 2018 at 10:12 AM

  9. You gotta see my post ‘CAUTION!’ today if you have not done so already!


    January 27, 2018 at 10:48 AM

  10. What a lovely shot, Steve. 🙂


    January 27, 2018 at 11:32 AM

    • So far today I haven’t seen any squirrels on that tree. I’m happy to have gotten this one good squirrel picture for 2018.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2018 at 11:42 AM

  11. That is a GREAT shot, Steve! There are no squirrels in NZ, at least that I’ve seen, and I miss them.

    Jenny Meadows

    January 27, 2018 at 2:06 PM

    • I understand how you miss them, Jenny, yet I’m glad to hear there aren’t any squirrels in NZ, given the many alien species that people have imported over there. You’ll have one more thing to look forward to whenever you visit the US.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2018 at 4:32 PM

  12. Cute shot!!


    January 27, 2018 at 8:27 PM

  13. Delightful Steve .. I see now you are an animal photographer 😃


    January 31, 2018 at 11:59 AM

    • I’m not particularly an animal photographer, Julie, but I’ve taken advantage of opportunities that have come my way, like the birds at several sanctuaries in NZ. And of course the easiest is when something appears right outside my window, like this squirrel.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 31, 2018 at 12:36 PM

  14. That is an adorable photo! The squirrel seems to be immune to the ilex vomitoria’s effects!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    February 7, 2018 at 9:35 PM

    • As I understand it, the vomitoria refers to the effects of drinking a strong infusion made from the leaves. People can’t consume the little fruits in any form. Many animals, on the other hand, suffer no ill effects from them. A few days ago I saw several cedar waxwings eating some from the same branches shown here. And think of all the animals that eat poison ivy fruit with impunity.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 7, 2018 at 10:12 PM

  15. […] Behold a red and green yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) casting shadows onto the otherwise sunny trunk of an Ashe juniper tree (Juniperus ashei) on the morning of December 4th. You may remember from the beginning of this year a close-up of a squirrel biting off one of these little fruits from the same yaupon tree. […]

  16. I already liked this photo when you first posted it, Steve, and I still do. You were at the right place at the right time to capture this hungry fellow in flagrante delicto, so to speak.


    December 26, 2018 at 3:30 PM

  17. What an amazing shot. Don’t you just love it when the photogenic wildlife poses just outside your window?


    December 26, 2018 at 8:09 PM

    • Fortunately I caught this squirrel at just the right moment. There have been other good moments, along with plenty of missed ones. Twice last week, for the only times ever, a squirrel jumped from that tree right onto my windowsill, but the hasty pictures I took weren’t up to par. C’est la vie.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 26, 2018 at 11:13 PM

  18. It’s great to follow prompts that take us to a fantastic image – that also makes me smile! It would work well for a Christmas greeting card!

    Years ago I did some illustrations for a 90-year old lady in Louisiana. She had worked with archaeologists and also with the Indians of Catahoula Parish and said that if a young Indian male could drink Ilex vomitoria without vomiting, he was considered a man!

    It’s so great to have views like this right out the window. There’s a young macadamia tree at the corner of the house, and most every day a squirrel sneaks in to raid the nuts. I hear the tree moving, and I sneak to the window, watch for a while, then all but whisper, ‘Hey!’ – and of course it bolts/leaps out of the tree and to the carambola and sometimes on to the nispero. I snap a few photos at times, but usually I just chuckle and watch. I don’t think it will ever be comfortable with my presence!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    January 8, 2019 at 4:46 PM

    • Sounds like you did a version of “Follow the yellow brick road” and instead of the great Oz you found a great squirrel nibbling on yaupon fruit. Speaking of which: not long ago I read that the notion of young male Indians trying to keep down a drink made from yaupon is a misunderstanding of the history and the botany—though obviously whoever chose the scientific species name believed in the folkloric account. Now I don’t know what the truth is. I’ve drunk yaupon tea and didn’t feel at all nauseated, though the dose may be a critical factor.

      I still see fox squirrels outside my computer room window but in the last few months a rock squirrel has taken to sitting on the wooden railing of our deck in the back yard. We don’t know why it likes that place so much, but it does. I’ve managed to get several pictures shooting through a back window, for example


      but the squirrel is very sensitive to noise and movement, and so far every attempt I’ve made to open the back door to get a better shot has caused the squirrel to run away. It’s as finicky as the one you described raiding the macadamia tree. We’ll have to see if you or I eventually have better luck. At least you can draw what you’ve seen, whereas I have to get a decent photograph to consider myself successful.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 8, 2019 at 6:08 PM

      • Yes, my photos don’t have to be great ones – just for reference, and then it’s easy to ‘edit’ by drawing/combing whatever is needed. Best is to work outdoors from life and then use the photos as backup reference. My camera chip and computer are having communication problems, a new prob as of last night. It was my fault for buying a not-so-perfect chip, but it was the best option I could find in the area…. sigh, there are problems in paradise!

        Playamart - Zeebra Designs

        January 11, 2019 at 10:54 AM

        • When I lived in Honduras I often felt frustrated by the lack of some things and the unreliability of others. At least you can always rely on your brain and its ability to move your drawing hand.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 11, 2019 at 11:01 AM

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