Nature Connection 1, Wednesday, Dec. 14

Winter is here, and food is no longer readily available for ‘outside’ animals. Most of these animals have stashed away food to provide energy through the winter months. Today’s activity, for children 3-9 years old (and young-at-heart adults), is designed to get us thinking about how animals survive the cold winter months, and also to think about what kind of intelligence it must take to retrieve the food that they have hidden. (I have a tough time keeping track of my phone and my keyring, and I only have one of each.)

Today’s activity is taken from the book, “Play Lightly on the Earth” by Jacqueline Horsfall, Dawn Publications, 1997.

Oh, Nuts!

The Inside Scoop: Animal that store food, like squirrels, provide evidence of spatial memory. They have the incredible ability to recover hundreds of pine nuts, acorns, or other food. Chickadees, jays, titmice, crows and nuthatches hide and recover food within their home territories or up to several miles away. The remembered location of stored food may be brief (less than a day) or recalled over several months, as when acorns buried in the fall are retrieved during the following winter.

GET READY!    You need 10-25 walnuts or unsalted peanuts (in the shell) 
                       Equal number of small colorful markers, like golf tees or buttons.  

GET SET!         Go to a natural area with abundant hiding places for your nuts.  

GO!                 1. Think like a squirrel – hide or bury your nut in a place where it can’t be seen. If you bury your nut, place a marker on top of the soil. To hide a nut above ground, place your nut on top of the marker. Don’t forget to count each one. You’re marking your place just in case a real squirrel steals your nuts! (An older child or adult may want to sketch a rough map showing the approximate locations of the hidden nuts.)

2. Take a break. This is a good time for a lunch break, play time, or a nap for younger kids. Older kids (or adults) may want to come back a day – or a week – later.

3. Without using your map, try to find all of your hidden nuts and/or markers. Use your map only if you’re stumped.

Where are some of the places squirrels might hid nuts?
Did you find all of your nuts? If you didn’t, what do you suppose happened?
Did you find any markers without nuts? If you did, what do you think happened to the nut?
If squirrels can find their buried nuts months later, what does that tell you about the squirrel?

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