Eastern Gray Squirrel

The Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis, is a tree squirrel native to the eastern to mid-western United States and eastern provincial Canada. The species name carolinensis refers to the Carolinas, where they were first recorded by zoologists and are still extremely common. The native range of the Eastern Gray Squirrel overlaps with that of the Fox squirrel, with which it is sometimes confused. This squirrel has also been introduced to the western United States and the United Kingdom where it has displaced the native Red Squirrel.

The gray squirrel is predominantly gray, but can have a reddish tinge. The belly is white. They have a large bushy tail. Particularly in urban situations where predation risk is reduced, both albino and melanistic forms of the Eastern Gray Squirrel are quite often found. The melanistic form, which is nearly black all over, is predominant in certain local populations as well as in large parts of southeastern Canada. They make a variety of noises used for communication with other gray squirrels and also for mating purposes.

Like most squirrels, the eastern gray is a scatter-hoarder, that is, it hoards food in numerous small caches for recovery later. Most caches are recovered within a few days for re-burial in a more secure location. Some are not retrieved for months at a time. It is estimated that each squirrel makes several thousand caches each year. They have a very accurate spatial memory for locations of their caches. They use near and distant landmarks to retrieve their buried food.

These squirrels build nests in the forks of trees or sometimes will attempt to build a nest in the attic or exterior walls of houses. They will invade bird feeders for millet and sunflower seeds, though safflower is often taken. Some seed is sold with hot pepper coating, because only mammals such as squirrels can taste its capsaicin, while the birds cannot. Mixing hot pepper flakes into regular birdseed works well as a squirrel deterrent. They have also been known to dig up bulbs from gardens.

Predators include hawks, skunks, raccoons, snakes and owls. On occasion, this squirrel may lose part of its tail while escaping a predator.