Who’s that Squirrel?

Fox Squirrel by Darlene Betat

Photo of Fox Squirrel by Darlene Betat

If there’s a bird feeder in your yard, chances are good that you are becoming an expert on squirrels. You might think of them as cute, furry little backyard friends, or criminal geniuses out to steal your bird food ….. or both! Active during the day, squirrels bound across lawns, skitter up and down tree trunks, and practice their telephone-line tightrope acts as they search for food. Opportunists and omnivores, they will eat nuts, seeds, plant matter, fungi, and fruit–and, they are always ready to raid a bird feeder .

There are ten species of squirrel found in the Northwest. Most build large nests of twigs and leaves high in the trees, and most raise two litters of young each year, but there are differences, too. Look a little closer, and see if you can tell which ones visit your backyard!

Small and noisy, Douglas Squirrels and Red Squirrels are only 6-7 inches long, with 5 inch tails. Douglas Squirrels live west of the Cascades, and Red Squirrels to the east. The Douglas Squirrel, or “Chickaree”, is dark, reddish olive-gray on the back and rusty or yellowish orange underneath, with a black line along the side in the summer. Its slightly flat tail has a black tip. Red Squirrels are yellowish to rusty red on the back, and whitish gray underneath, with a black line down the side in the summer. Its tail is bushy, and the ears sprout large tufts of fur in the winter.

Northern Flying Squirrel is our smallest Squirrel, measuring 11 inches long, including its wide, flat tail. Folds of skin extending from its “wrists” to its “ankles” are stretched out when it glides from tree to tree, using its tail as a rudder. The fur is gray above and creamy white below. Flying squirrels are active at night. Shine a light on a feeder some evening, and you might see one!

Fox Squirrels, introduced from the Southeast, are as large as Western Grays.  Their coarse fur, reddish above and reddish orange below, and smaller ears are distinguishing features.

Western Gray Squirrels are large—9-12 inches long, with another 9-12 inches of tail—and grizzled gray to silvery, with a creamy white belly. They once were our common “bushy-tail”, but due to habitat
loss, disease, hunting, and competition from other squirrels, they are now scarce.  Unlike our other squirrels, Western Grays breed only once a year .

Non-native Eastern Gray Squirrels are similar, but smaller, at 8-10 inches, with an 8-10 inch tail. Their fur shows reddish brown, especially on the back and tail. They are frequent visitors at backyard