Types of Squirrels in California! (5 species w/ pictures)

What types of squirrels can you find in California?

common squirrels in california

 

I have found squirrels cause a range of emotions. Some individuals find them adorable and love watching their crazy antics!

 

But many people can’t stand having squirrels around, particularly on their bird feeders! These feeding enthusiasts are constantly battling these acrobatic rodents to keep them on the ground and away from their bird food.

 

Regardless of your personal feelings, I think squirrels are interesting to learn about. If you are curious about all the species that can be found near you, please keep reading. 🙂

 

Below are the 5 types of squirrels that live in California!

 

Make sure to pay attention to the range maps to see where each squirrel lives! I have included a few photographs for each species to help you identify the ones you are lucky enough to observe.

 

Learn more about other animals found in California HERE:

 


#1. Eastern Gray Squirrel

types of squirrels in california

Scientific Name: Sciurus carolinensis

Average Length (Including tail): 16.6 – 21.6 inches / 42 – 55 cm

Weight: 14 – 21 oz / 400 – 600 grams

Lifespan: Adults typically live to be about 6 years old. Some lucky individuals can live up to 12 years in the wild, assuming they are not eaten by a hawk, owl, bobcat, fox, weasel, feral cat, snake, or human.

 

Eastern Gray Squirrel Range Map

gray squirrel range map

 

These rodents eat a variety of foods, but naturally, their favorites are definitely nuts, such as acorns, walnuts, and hazelnuts. As winter approaches, Eastern Gray Squirrels start hiding food in many locations, which provides them nutrition through the colder months. They hide more food than they will ever find again, and some of these extra seeds will eventually grow into new trees. Who knew that squirrels could play such an important role in seed dispersal?

 

Many people have thrown up their hands in defeat as they try to stop these acrobatic mammals from taking over the bird feeders in their backyard. Eastern Gray Squirrels LOVE birdseed and are relentless when they know an easy meal awaits inside a feeder. Their favorite foods include sunflower seeds, peanuts, and corn.

 

species of squirrels in california

In the wild, these squirrels are found in large, dense deciduous forests full of mature trees (oaks, hickories) that produce lots of nuts! But these adaptable critters are equally comfortable living in suburban and urban neighborhoods, parks, and farms!

 

While this squirrel is native to eastern North America, they are actually an invasive species in California. Eastern Gray Squirrels are problematic because they outcompete and displace native squirrels.

 

Some gray squirrels are black!

 

Yes, I realize that it’s a bit strange that some Eastern Gray Squirrels have black fur, but it’s true! These black squirrels appear as a morph, and genetically speaking, it’s believed to result from a faulty pigment gene. No one is really sure why the black morph evolved, but several theories have been offered. Some scientists think it may be a selective advantage for squirrels that inhabit the northern ranges to help them absorb heat since the color of black conducts heat best.

 

Regardless of the reason, seeing a black squirrel is incredibly awesome! I am lucky enough to see them almost daily in my backyard, hanging out with their gray counterparts.

 


#2. Fox Squirrel

fox squirrel

 

Scientific Name: Sciurus niger

Average Length (Including tail): 17.7 – 27.6 inches / 45 – 70 cm

Weight: 1.1 – 2.2 pounds / 500 – 1000 grams

Lifespan: Captive Fox Squirrels have been known to live up to 18 years. In the wild, their maximum lifespan is 12.6 years for females and 8.6 years for males. However, individuals rarely live that long due to overhunting, disease from mange mites, severe winter weather, or predation from foxes, coyotes, and birds of prey.

 

Fox Squirrels are the largest tree squirrel in California.

 

Fox Squirrel Range Map

fox squirrel range map

 

These squirrels can adapt to many different habitats. They are most often found in small patches of deciduous forests that include trees that produce their favorite foods, which are acorns, walnuts, pecans, and hickory nuts. To prepare for winter, they hide caches of these nuts all over the place to be eaten later when the weather turns cold.

 

Unfortunately, Fox Squirrels have been introduced to California where they are not native. Fox Squirrels are putting pressure on native squirrel species due to their ability to outcompete them.

 

Fox Squirrels seem to thrive around people.

common fox squirrels

 

Subsequently, they are commonly found in urban parks and neighborhoods. For example, Fox Squirrels were a regular sight all over the campus (Baldwin-Wallace University) where I went to college, and adoringly loved by both students and faculty!

 

You will likely see Fox Squirrels foraging on the ground, as they spend much of their time there. But don’t let this fact fool you, since they are still skilled climbers. In addition to scaling trees, they will easily climb a bird feeder pole to get access to birdseed. 🙂

 

Most Fox Squirrels follow the same coloration, which is a grayish-brown fur coat with orange hair on their belly and on the edge of their tail. But these squirrels have highly variable colorations, depending on location. For example, the Delmarva Fox Squirrel, which is native to several states in the east, is gray on top with a white belly, whitish feet, and a gray tail with white frosting. In the southeast, a subspecies called Sherman’s Fox Squirrels are found with black heads that contrast with a white nose and ears, along with fur coats that range in color from gray to black.

 

Fox Squirrels are incredible jumpers!

WATCH squirrels jumping about 10 feet to my bird feeders!

 

They can leap up to 15 feet horizontally. If you don’t want these squirrels on your bird feeders, then you need to remember this fact. Place your feeding station away from places that squirrels can use as a launchpad, such as trees, fences, and structures. On a side note, the squirrels in the video above are Eastern Gray Squirrels, NOT Fox Squirrels. Regardless, I thought it demonstrated my point that these athletic rodents can jump REALLY FAR!

 


#3. Western Gray Squirrel

western gray squirrel

 

Scientific Name: Sciurus griseus

Average Length (Including tail): 17 – 24 inches / 43 – 61 cm

Weight: 12.3 – 35 oz / 350 – 992 grams

Lifespan: Adults can live up to 8 years old.

 

The Western Gray Squirrel has a limited range and can only be found on the western coast and parts of Mexico. These squirrels love living in the forest and are found at elevations up to 8,200 feet (2,500 m).

  • You may see this species referred to as the Silver-gray Squirrel, California Gray Squirrel, Oregon Gray Squirrel, Columbian Gray Squirrel, or the Banner-tail, depending on location.

 

Western Gray Squirrel Range Map

 

Even though the Western Gray Squirrel looks similar to the Eastern Gray Squirrel, their personalities are different. For example, the western species are typically shy and will run up a tree when disturbed. Once there, they give a hoarse chirping sound at the intruder, along with tail flicking and foot-stomping. Because of their shyness, Western Gray Squirrels typically don’t bother bird feeders as much as other squirrel species!

 

In California, these squirrels face several threats that have affected their population.

 

  • Habitat loss due to wildfires and urbanization. These creatures are inherently shy and don’t adapt as well to humans as other squirrel species.

 

  • A disease called Notoedric Mange, caused by mites, can be a huge problem for these squirrels and cause many deaths.

 

  • Competition with other squirrel species is a huge threat! Populations of the more aggressive and non-native Eastern Gray Squirrels and Fox Squirrels have been introduced over the years, which has been extremely detrimental. The Western Gray Squirrel has had to retreat farther and farther back into remote mountain habitats where competition is not so strong. Southern California, in particular, has been ravaged by the Fox Squirrel.

 


#4. Douglas Squirrel

douglas squirrel

 

Scientific Name: Tamiasciurus douglasii

Average Length (Including tail): 13 inches / 33 cm

Weight: 5.25 to 10.5 oz / 150 – 300 grams

Lifespan: Not much is known about how long these squirrels live, but their main predators include feral cats, American Martens, bobcats, hawks, and owls.

 

The Douglas Squirrel is found only in the Pacific Northwest, along the coast from the Sierra Mountains in California to southern British Columbia. The Douglas Squirrel and the more widespread American Red Squirrel are similar and occupy the same ecological niche. It is rare to find these two squirrels in the same territory, and where one squirrel range ends, the other typically begins.

 

Douglas Squirrel Range Map

douglas squirrel range map

 

Interestingly, this energetic squirrel changes its appearance throughout the year. During summer, the backs of Douglas Squirrels are grayish or almost greenish-brown, while its belly and chest are pale orange. In the winter, the coat changes to become more brown and gray, and the ears appear to have more of a tufted look than they do in summer.

 

Douglas Squirrels are noisy by nature!

 

If a predator or threat is spotted, they use a wide array of calls to warn everyone in the forest of the impending danger.

 

These pine squirrels primarily live in coniferous forests due to their preferred diet of seeds from Douglas Firs, Sitka Spruces, and Shore Pine trees. But they will also eat acorns, mushrooms, berries, and bird eggs when available.

 

Hoarders, by nature, the Douglas Squirrel, will typically use one location to store as much food as possible. As the squirrel peels scales off of pinecones to get to the seeds, the scales start to accumulate on the ground. Over time, it’s common for giant piles, sometimes over several meters wide, to form as generations of squirrels may use the same location. If you find one of these piles of discarded pine scales, it’s a sure sign that a squirrel is nearby!

 

Interestingly, sometimes their storage locations are raided by humans. These burglars are looking to steal green pine cones, which are then sold to nurseries who want the fresh seeds to plant. Luckily, it seems this activity has not affected the population of Douglas Squirrels.

douglas squirrel

Lastly, look for a distinct black stripe on the sides of these squirrels in summer, which fades or goes away completely in winter.

 


Flying Squirrels

 

When I first heard about flying squirrels, I didn’t believe the person describing them to me.

common types of flying squirrels

 

You see, I am outside a lot and take pride in trying to know and identify as much local wildlife as possible. So when I was told that there are small squirrels that glide from tree to tree at night and are rarely ever seen, I was a bit skeptical.

 

But after some research, I was amazed to learn about flying squirrels!

 

In fact, these unique mammals are more common than most people realize. But since these squirrels are small, nocturnal, and live at the tops of trees, they are RARELY seen. Even now that I know they exist, I still have never actually seen one in person.

 

Do flying squirrels actually fly?

 

Let’s clear up the most commonly asked question about flying squirrels. While the name implies otherwise, these creatures don’t have wings, nor can they fly. What they do have are folds of skin underneath their arms, called a patagium, which extends from their wrists all the way to their ankles.

 

This membrane allows these squirrels to “glide” from tree to tree. So their gliding can give that impression that they are flying.

 

In California, there is only ONE flying squirrel specie you can observe:

 


#5. Humboldt’s Flying Squirrel

 

Scientific Name: Glaucomys oregonensis

Average Length (Including tail): ~ 12 inches / ~ 30 cm

 

The Humboldt’s Flying Squirrel is actually a new species! These squirrels, which live in coniferous forests in southern British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and northern California, were always thought to be Northern Flying Squirrels. But after extensive DNA analysis in 2017, it was determined that these squirrels differed enough to be classified as their own separate species!

 

Humboldt’s Flying Squirrel Range Map

humboldts flying squirrel range map

 

Overall, Humboldt’s and Northern Flying Squirrels look incredibly similar. The only difference in appearance is that Humboldt’s are a bit smaller and have slightly darker fur. These slight size and color differences are what initially encouraged scientists to run DNA tests. To the untrained eye, it’s almost impossible to tell them apart!

 

Humboldt’s Flying Squirrels are what is referred to as a “cryptic species.” This means they look almost identical to another species but are considered different and can’t interbreed.

 

Now that we know they are different species, scientists are working hard to figure out what keeps them apart from one another. Do they inhabit slightly different habitats? Are their unique behaviors or specialties that keep them from competing?

 


Which of these squirrels have you seen before in California?

 

Leave a comment below!