Posts Tagged ‘American red squirrel’


Generalists are very interesting, for as cute as the Abert’s squirrel is, they don’t live off the North American continent. It is very specialized to its habitat and to is peculiar food source.

Eastern gray squirrels are found in many European countries. South Africa has a few of them. And Australia did have them for a while.

If you can eat anything, you’ll be able to live anywhere. When I was in undergrad, I watched the local grays raid the dumpsters. They would run off with pancakes, pieces of bread, and anything else they could find.

Abert’s are found only in parts of the Southern Rockies. The Kaibab squirrel, a subspecies of the Abert’s, is found only on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and a small area of the Kaibab National Forest. It is a good example of geographic isolation producing a unique subspecies. (It was the textbook example of the phenomenon in my sixth grade science textbook.)


As I’ve written previously, the poor mast year has put the local squirrels on relief for the whole winter. The regular snowfall that we’re now receiving has forced them into eating lots of birdseed and corn out of our feeders.

We have two fox squirrels here who are so fat that they look like small groundhogs.

I’ll try to get photos of them, but these squirrels are hunted every year. They have a very real fear of people. They are nothing like suburban squirrels or those inhabiting parks.

In my immediate area, about one third of the grays are melanistic. Unfortunately, not a single one of them has come to our feeders. We’ve got a gray one with a blackish face, but no black solid black ones at all. When we’ve fed them in the front yard, we have had a few black ones show up, but virtually no fox squirrels visited. In the backyard, the fox squirrels dominate.


Please note, that we have American red squirrels here, although they are not that common. I prefer to call Sciurus niger the “fox squirrel,” while  I call Tamiasciurus hudsonicus is the “red squirrel.” I know this might cause some confusion for those regions of the country where the fox squirrel is called a red squirrel. To me, it’s not a red squirrel. It’s a fox squirrel. A red squirrel is something different.

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It is not unusual to hear the word “fairydiddle” to describe American red squirrels in West Virginia.

I do not know the origin of the term, but the term often also applies to flying squirrels in other parts of the country.

American red squirrels are not closely related to the tufted-eared red squirrels of Eurasia. Those squirrels are members of the genus Sciurus, which includes the three species of gray squirrel in North America and the fox squirrel (the big one). North American red squirrels are related to Douglas squirrels with which they share the genus Tamiasciurus.

Douglas squirrels live in the three Pacific coastal states and British Columbia. They also have two alternative names– chickaree and pine squirrel. The two species closely resemble each other and are roughly the same size. The American red squirrel is tawny colored with a white belly, while the Douglas squirrel is dun-brown with a yellow or tawny belly.

Douglas squirrel

Douglas squirrel

Both of these species are far more territorial than the grey squirrels, the fox squirrel, and the Eurasian red squirrel. Typically, you can find all of those species living in loosely knit colonies. Usually, if you find an American red squirrel or a Douglas squirrel, it is alone or fighting with another one so that it can be alone.

For some reason, I don’t find American red and Eastern gray squirrels in the same place. They don’t really share exactly the same habitat, but they do have a range that overlaps.

I have heard an urban (well, in this case, rural) legend that American reds are so aggressive towards the larger Eastern grays that they drive them from their territories.  They even invade their nesting holes and dreys and castrate their male offspring.

I don’t know whether these stories are true.

I do know that you almost never find the two species together.

And I also know that no one in their right mind would kill an American red squirrel and eat it. It’s far too small and bony.

The best “eating squirrel” is the Eastern gray– especially one that has been eating acorns and hickory nuts all autumn.

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