Living right on the edge of the woods I often wake up to the sounds of wild life. It is not uncommon to wake up to the drumming sounds of a Pileated woodpecker (Dryocous pileatus) or to look out my window to see the Whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) roaming around my apartment complex bordering their home space. In fact, there used to be an albino deer that lived in the woods. She was easy to spot in the pack, as her gleaming white fur was so distinct amongst the sea of her brown family members. Being from Pennsylvania, I am no stranger to seeing deer roaming around, but I had never seen an albino deer before coming to Guilford. It feels as though the Guilford woods offered a safe haven to this animal. If she had been living out in the open wild, she would be easy to spot for hunters. I often wondered how she came to be present at Guilford, or if it was simply just chance that she was born in to the community of deer that call these woods home.
The Eastern Grey Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) that call the woods home also venture out in to the further realms of campus. They say that these squirrels are crazier than normal squirrels, maybe this is due to the fact that they have so much human interaction. These woods are an interesting area for many of the animals that live there because of the rather high level of human activity in the area. The squirrels living in the woods are most likely not living off of a normal diet for squirrels, their diets are enriched with the food scraps left behind from the college community. It is not uncommon to see a squirrel dashing up a tree with a piece of pizza or a chicken finger tightly clutched in its mouth, or to find one rummaging in a dumpster or trashcan, waiting to jump out and scare whoever is coming to drop off their garbage.
However, as these squirrels may be seen as pests to those who live on campus, they are actually a vital part of the ecological community of the woods, as they serve as natural forest regenerators. These squirrels bury large amount of seeds in an effort to find and store food, and most of the seeds that they bury do not end up being recovered. They also tend to eat the damaged or bad seeds first and only bury the good seeds that will last for later. When these seeds are not recovered by the squirrels who buried them, they are left to grow and regenerate the forest environment. This selective burying is key in the role that squirrels play as one of the most effective forest regenerators.
The squirrels and deer that call our woods home serve as an important reminder that we are still living on land that does not belong solely to us. The wildlife that live in the woods all play important roles in the way the ecosystem exists, and while this is easy to forget, it is important to acknowledge that this landscape is shaped and regenerated by the specific animals that live on it.