Aside from birds, gray squirrels are one of the most commonly observed wild animals in many parts of North America. Their quick, jerky antics are familiar to rural residents as well those living in urban locations.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Order - Rodentia
Family - Sciuridae
Genus - Sciurus
Species - S. carolinensis (Eastern Gray Squirrel), S. griesus (Western Gray Squirrel), S. arizonensis (Arizona Gray Squirrel), S. aureogaster (Mexican Gray Squirrel)
Common Names - Grey Squirrel or Gray Squirrel
Gray Squirrels are usually between 17 and 20 inches long. They have grayish-brown fur and long bushy tails that help them balance as they dash from tree to tree. Their bellies are usually white. They have two long, front teeth that never stop growing, so they wear down these teeth with frequent gnawing.
Male gray squirrels reach puberty around 18 months of age. However, females are ready to breed around the age of 12 months. Gray squirrels mate in the winter. After mating, the male and female will both work together to build their nest. The mother squirrel will give birth to three to six babies after a gestation period of 40 to 44 days. Mature squirrels will have a larger second litter later on in the summer. The offspring from the second litter of baby squirrels will spend the winter in the nest with its parents. Weaning usually takes place around 12 weeks of age.
Gray squirrels are tree squirrels, meaning that they are wonderful climbers and spend much of their time scampering from branch to branch and making wild leaps to other trees. They also can run down a tree trunk head-first. However, they are often seen on the ground as well, looking for seeds and nuts to eat. They either live in tree cavities or in large nests that they build in tree branches. They frequently nest in oak, maple, sweet gum, maple, and elm trees. Gray squirrels will get food from wherever they can. This may include digging up flower bulbs, raiding bird feeders, and stealing vegetables from nearby gardens. They will bury their food underground and return to their stashes in the winter when food sources are scarce.
The fossil record indicates that the Gray Squirrel existed in North America as long as 50 million years ago.
Squirrels are common in forests, cities, and suburbs all across North America. They can be eaten by many mammalian predators, including lynxes, mink, weasels, bobcats, and wolves. Additionally, bird predators include owls, eagles, and hawks. While they are far from endangered, populations of Gray Squirrels have been declining in the past few decades due to habitat loss as urban sprawl has decimated woodlands in the eastern United States. They have also been introduced to Great Britain and South Africa.