The Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger, is the largest species of tree squirrels native to North America. The Fox Squirrel’s natural range extends throughout the eastern United States, excluding New England, north into the southern prairie provinces of Canada, and west to the Dakotas, Colorado, and Texas. They have been introduced into Northern California. While very versatile in their habitat choices, fox squirrels are most often found in forest patches of 250 square miles or less with an open under story, or in urban neighborhoods with trees. They thrive best among trees such as oak, hickory, walnut and pine that produce winter-storable foods like nuts.
Squirrels reach a total body length of 17.7 to 27.5 inches (tail length is 8 – 13 inches). They weigh between 17.5 and 35.25 ounces. There is no sexual dimorphism in size or appearance. Individuals tend to be smaller in the west. There are three distinct geographical phases in coloration. In most areas the animals are brown-gray to brown-yellow, while in eastern regions such as the Appalachians there are more strikingly-patterned dark brown and black squirrels with white bands on the face and tail. In the south it can be found in isolated communities with uniform black coats.
Fox Squirrels depend primarily on tree seeds for food, but they are generalist eaters and will also consume buds and fruits, cultivated grain, insects, birds’ eggs, and small lizards. Cannibalism has been reported, but should be considered very rare. In their regular diet of nuts, fox squirrels are classic scatter-hoarders that bury caches of nuts in dispersed locations, some of which are inevitably left to germinate.
Fox Squirrels are strictly diurnal, non-territorial, and spend more of their time on the ground than most other tree squirrels. They are still, however, agile climbers. They make two different types of nests – one for regular nesting and another for breeding purposes. There are two breeding seasons, one peaking in December and the other in June. The young are blind, without fur and helpless at birth. They become independent at about three months and maturity is reached after one year. Their maximum life expectancy is 12.6 years for females and 8.6 years for males. Humans, hawks, snakes and bobcats prey on the squirrels.