Eastern Gray Squirrel

Sciurus carolinensis

Photo by F. Eugene Hester. Copyright © 1996.

Eastern Gray Squirrels are the most frequently seen mammal in our area. They are members of the Rodent family, and spend most of their lives in trees.

Eastern Gray Squirrels can grow 17 to 20 inches long. They have grayish-brown fur, except for their bellies, which have pale fur. The tail often has silvery-tipped hairs at the end.

This animal does have a black phase, which means some of them are nearly all black; but these are not as common.

Photographer: P. Myers (http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu)

Photo © David Blevins

Eastern Gray Squirrels usually live in forests, but they are also seen in yards, gardens, and city parks. Basically, they live anywhere there are large, deciduous trees (trees whose leaves die in the Fall).

These squirrels live in trees year-round, either in cavities or nests they build out of leaves. Cavities are often old woodpecker holes. Nests are usually high up in tree crotches. Nests are hard to see in the Summer, because they are made with green leaves, and are hidden by foliage (leaves on the trees). They are easy to see in the Winter, when the nest leaves have turned brown and tree leaves fall to the ground.

The trees most commonly used by Eastern Gray Squirrels to live in are White Oak, American Beech, American Elm, Red Maple, and Sweetgum, though they will use others also.

Squirrels mate in the Winter, and you can often see males chasing females up, down, and around trees. Once mated, both the male and female build the nest.

Photographer: P. Myers (http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu)

Eastern Gray Squirrels have two litters each year. The first is in the Spring, the second in late Summer. Two or three young are in each litter. The second litter spends the winter with their mother.

Eastern Gray Squirrels usually live to be about five years old. They survive with their good sense of vision, smell, and hearing. They also have incredible balance. They rarely fall from trees and hurt themselves. They can run headfirst down a tree trunk. Eastern Gray Squirrels are also excellent swimmers.

This squirrel's greatest tool may be its tail. It uses it for balance, shade from the sun, as an umbrella, a blanket, and as a rudder when swimming.

Eastern Gray Squirrels are very active, especially in the morning and evening (crepuscular times). During these times they are constantly moving. Usually, they are looking for food.

The diet of Eastern Gray Squirrels includes: acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts, beechnuts, maple (buds, bark, and samaras), Yellow Poplar blossoms, American Hornbeam seeds, apples, fungi, Black Cherry, Flowering Dogwood, grapes, sedges, grasses, American Holly, insects (adults and larvae), baby birds, bird eggs, and amphibians. Sometimes they even eat each other!

Rod Planck

Copyright, Hoss Firooznia

Eastern Gray Squirrels will also visit birdfeeders, dig up flower bulbs, and steal garden vegetables.

Squirrels will often bury their food at a new spot, near the surface of the ground. In Winter, when food is scarce, they will use their sense of smell to relocate their "secret" food. They don't always find all of their stashed food, so they help "plant" new trees and plants, letting them grow in new places.

The most important predators of Eastern Gray Squirrels are hawks, owls, Red Fox, Raccoons, and snakes.

Sometimes you will see a nearly bald squirrel. This means it is suffering from mange, an illness caused by mites.

From time to time, Eastern Gray Squirrels have short battles with Pileated Woodpeckers over tree cavities. Usually the squirrels win.

Additional Media

Description
Type
Credit
Eastern Gray Squirrel Eating
Video
Phil Heine
Download Quicktime if you are unable to play video.

Relationships in Nature:

PREY/FOOD
PREDATORS
SHELTER
OTHER

Black Oak

Great Horned Owl

White Oak

Black Oak D

White Oak

Barred Owl

American Beech

White Oak D

Turkey Tail

Red-tailed Hawk

American Elm

Willow Oak D

Mockernut Hickory

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Red Maple

Mockernut Hickory D

Black Walnut

Red Fox

Sweetgum

Oyster Mushroom D

American Beech

Raccoon

Black Oak

American Beech D

Black Cherry

Black Rat Snake

American Hornbeam

Black Cherry D

Flowering Dogwood

Copperhead

Mockernut Hickory

Flowering Dogwood D

Switchgrass

Eastern Hognose Snake

Greenbrier

American Hornbeam D

Eastern Redcedar

Sarcoptic Mange Mite

Silver Maple

Eastern Redcedar D

Eastern White Pine

Spicebush

Sarcoptic Mange Mite Pa

Virginia Pine

Smooth Sumac

Sharp-shinned Hawk SP

Yellow Poplar

Pokeweed

Red Maple D

Red Maple

Loblolly Pine

American Holly D

American Holly

Common Elderberry

Loblolly Pine D

Red-backed Salamander

Switchgrass

Wild Grape D

Spring Peeper

Cinnamon Fern

Pileated Woodpecker SP EC

Northern Cardinal

Willow Oak

Greenbrier D

Luna Moth

Japanese Honeysuckle

Green Hawthorn D

Bald Eagle

Black Locust

Chigger Pa

Relationship to Humans:

Eastern Gray Squirrels have a love/hate relationship with people. They are the second-most fed and watched animals, after birds. They also help control plant populations by eating many seeds and fruits, and insect populations as well.

Eastern Gray Squirrels annoy people by taking over birdfeeders, nesting in attics, ruining garden vegetables such as cucumbers, eggplants, and pumpkins, and by "transplanting" flower bulbs to new locations. Many people wonder how a flower pops up in the middle of a lawn or some other strange place. It was probably moved by a squirrel.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM
Animal
PHYLUM
Chordate
CLASS
Mammal
ORDER
Rodentia
FAMILY
Sciuridae
GENUS
Sciurus
SPECIES
Sciurus carolinensis

QUICK LINKS

Organism Menu
Home
Glossary
Student Activities
Relationships
Classification Info
How to Use This Site
Bibliography