Eastern Gray Squirrel
The gray squirrel is one of Minnesota's most common wildlife species. It is often seen in backyards, parks and wooded rural areas. Because of its thick furry tail, it is sometimes called bushytail.|
Gray squirrels have slender bodies with bushy tails, large eyes, and white or brownish to rusty-colored bellies. Their fur looks grey and generally soft and silky. Up close you can see that their fur is actually rather salt and pepper, which of course mixes to look grey. A lot of them have wiry tan hairs dotted throughout their fur. In the fall they will begin preparing for winter and with a thick coat beginning to come in can look quite stocky, and seem much larger than in the summer months. The hindlimbs are generally longer than the forelimbs, and they have four or five toes on each foot. Their paws on their forefeet include a thumb, although this is often poorly developed. The feet also have a soft pad on the underside.
They are mainly tree-dwelling, but spends much of their time on the ground.
Length: Eight to 12 inches, with a tail roughly the same length.
Weight: aprox. 1.5 pounds.
HABITAT & DIET
Gray squirrels live amoung both coniferous & hardwood forests, wooded parks and residential areas. They are found throughout Minnesota but are most common in hardwoods in the central part of the state. Squirrel numbers have increased in recent years due to suburban sprawl and backyard bird feeders. Gray squirrels are one of the few animals that thrive in areas where houses break up natural woodlands. The gray squirrel is a very diverse animal, native to North America.
In the wild, eastern gray squirrels can be found inhabiting large areas of mature, dense woodland ecosystems, that generally cover 40 *hectares of land. These forests usually contain large amounts of dense vegetation that provides sufficient amount of food sources and favorable shelters for eastern gray squirrels.
(*hectares-metric unit of area: a metric unit of area equal to 100 ares or 10,000 sq m)
The Gray Squirrel must eat every day even in the winter. It does not hibernate and is unable to conserve enough energy to survive for long periods without food. It is most active during the early and late hours of the day, and tend to avoid the heat in the middle of a summer day, when it searches for whatever fruit, shoots, and seeds are in season. Small thumbs on it's front paws allow it to hold securely as it feeds. The squirrel's diet varies according to season. It eats manly tree bark and fungi in the winter and buds in the summer. In September it eats nuts and acorns.
Squirrels cannot digest cellulose and must rely on foods rich in protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Naturally, nuts are a large part of their diet, along with berries & seeds. Other foods grey squirrels dine on are acorns, hazelnuts, walnuts, pinenuts, fungi, buds, insects, eggs, berries, blulbs, shoots, bark, vegetation, deer sheds, bone, smaller creatures, millet, corn, peanuts, sunflower and saflower seeds. It is safe to say that grey squirrels enjoy a very well balanced diet.
The Gray squirrel is a scatter-hoarder; it hoards food in numerous small caches for later recovery. Some caches are quite temporary, especially those made near the site of a sudden abundance of food which can be retrieved within hours or days for re-burial in a more secure site. Others are more permanent and are not retrieved until months later. It has been estimated that each squirrel makes several thousand caches each season. The squirrels have very accurate spatial memory for the locations of these caches, and use distant and nearby landmarks to retrieve them. Smell is used once the squirrel is close to the cache.
A gray squirrel can hide 25 nuts in a half an hour and can later find roughly 80 percent of the those it buried.
Nests & Reproduction
Gray Squirrels construct their nests sometimes called dens or dreys can be found in a hollow tree or built between sturdy branches usually close to the trunk of a large tree. By chewing on the scars where small dead branches have fallen, squirrels help to make nesting cavities for future generations. Fungi soon invades the wood, softening it to create the hollows. They also have been known to take shelter within abandoned bird nests. The nests are usually lined with moss, soft plants, thistledown, dried grass, and feathers. These perhaps provide and assist in the insulation of the den, used to reduce heat loss. A cover to the nest is usually built afterwards.
A gray squirrel will build several nests or dens and use them all. When a female has young, the nest is theirs alone, but winter nests are often shared to generate warmth. Winter and breeding nests are usually larger then the summer nests and they are built of studier material.
Gray squirrels mate from March to June, gestation is about 44 days. They nest in tree hollows or in a tree-top nest, which is a 12- to 19-inch ball-shaped nest made of leaves, twigs and bark.|
Female squirrels have 2 to 4 young, which are born hairless, toothless, helpless, eyes closed and weigh 1/2 ounce. The young young are fed every two to four hours.
At 7 weeks they begin to follow their mother out on the tree branches and before long have learned to climb. The young squirrels gradually begin to eat solid food and are weaned at 10 weeks of age.
| By the time they are 12 weeks old, young squirrels are completely independent and become sexually mature at the end of their first year. If there are not too many squirrels in the area, the young will build the dens nearby. Otherwise, they will be chased away to less crowded feeding area. |
Female squirrels can mate only twice a year, but males can mate at any time. A male squirrel can smell a female that is ready to mate. Often, several males will attempt to mate with the same female. They try to attract her attention by slapping the bark of trees with their paws and chattering loudly. After the mating the males play no part in the rearing of the young.
A Gray Squirrel can live to be 20 years old in captivity, but in the wild they live generally 3-4 years with a maximum of 12 years.
Behavior & Sounds
As their large eyes indicate, squirrels generally have an excellent sense of vision, which is especially important for tree-dwelling species. They also have very versatile and sturdy claws for grasping and climbing. Many also have a good sense of touch, with sensitive hair on their heads and limbs.
Gray squirreles are one of very few mammals that can descend a tree head-first. It does this by turning its feet so that the claws of its hindpaws are backward pointing and can grip the tree bark. The gray squirrel can leap more than 20 feet.
The teeth of Grey Squirrels follow the typical rodent pattern, with large gnawing incisors that grow throughout life, and grinding cheek teeth set back behind a wide gap, or diastema. The squirrel's front teeth continue to grow throughout it's life, so they can never be worn away by the animal's continual gnawing.
As in most other mammals, communication among gray squirrel individuals involves both vocalizations and posturing. It has a quite varied repertoire of vocalizations, including a squeak similar to that of a mouse, a low pitched noise, a chatter, a piercing scream, and a raspy "mehr mehr mehr". Other methods of communication include tail-flicking. Communications are mainly used in mating season and to ward off predators. When Squirrels are angry or scared they make a harsh chirping or chattering noise often followed by the raspy "mehr mehr mehr" which will be repeated long after the intruder has left. This sound will correspond with it's tail jerking each time it makes the sound.
Tracks, Hunting & Predators
Like all squirrels, the Gray shows four fingers on the front feet and five on the hind feet. The hind foot-pad is often not visible in the track. When bounding or moving at speed, the front foot tracks will be behind the hind foot tracks. The bounding stride can be two or three feet long.
In North America, many of the numbers are regulated by hunting and in England, numbers are controlled by poisoning the animals. The Eastern gray squirrel and eastern fox squirrel are among the most sought-after small game animals in Minnesota. A squirrel pressed in hiding against a tree is a challenging target. Moreover, its speed on the ground and through the treetops has vexed many a squirrel hunter. Each year, Minnesota hunters harvest about 150,000 gray squirrels. Hunters will sometimes trick a gray squirrel into showing itself by clicking two quarters together, which makes a squirrel-like sound.
Predators include hawks, coyotes, wolves, foxes, weasels, bobcats, owls, skunks, raccoons, cats & dogs. On occasion, a squirrel may lose part of its tail while escaping a predator.