What types of squirrels can you find in North Carolina?
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.
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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 North Carolina!
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 North Carolina HERE:
#1. Eastern Gray Squirrel
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.
The Eastern Gray Squirrel is common in North Carolina, and one of the squirrels that people do battle with the most at their backyard bird feeders!
Eastern 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.
- Learn about my favorite SQUIRREL-PROOF bird feeding pole HERE! (Seriously, squirrels can’t climb up to your feeders – GUARANTEED)
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 North Carolina, they are actually an invasive species in other parts of the country and world. Eastern Gray Squirrels are especially problematic in many parts of Europe because they outcompete and displace their native squirrels, such as the incredibly cute Eurasian Red Squirrel.
- RELATED: 6 LIVE Animal Cams From Around The World! (Check out the camera in Europe, as it’s common to see Eurasian Red Squirrels almost daily)
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.
- RELATED: Watch my LIVE animal cameras on Youtube! (You may see an Eastern Gray Squirrel right now in my backyard)
#2. American Red Squirrel
Scientific Name: Tamiasciurus hudsonicus
Average Length (Including tail): 11- 14 inches / 28 – 35.5 cm
Weight: 7.1–8.8 oz / 200–250 g
Lifespan: They experience severe mortality during their first year, as only about 20% of babies survive. For individuals that survive the first year, the average lifespan is still only 2.3 years, with a maximum lifespan of 8 years. Predators include bobcats, coyotes, hawks, owls, foxes, American Martens, and Canadian Lynxes.
The American Red Squirrel is widespread across North Carolina and easy to identify when compared to other squirrel species. As the name suggests, they have a reddish color and white belly that makes them easy to distinguish. Size-wise, they are both MUCH smaller than both gray and fox squirrels but larger than chipmunks.
American Red Squirrel Range Map
These squirrels are primarily found in coniferous forests due to their diet, which consists of seeds from evergreen trees. But they are equally at home in deciduous forests, backyards, parks, and urban areas, where they adjust their diet to eat foods such as berries, bird eggs, acorns, hazelnuts, mushrooms, mice, and sunflower seeds from backyard bird feeding stations. American Red Squirrels even have a sweet tooth and are known to tap maple trees so they can eat the sugar from the sap!
These squirrels are BEST known for their aggressive personality!
Press PLAY to hear the sounds of an American Red Squirrel!
When I go hiking, I almost always see at least one American Red Squirrel, as they are not shy creatures. As soon as I’m spotted, the squirrel typically runs up a tree to sit and then starts making loud chattering noises to alert the whole forest to my presence!
And despite their small size, these squirrels run the show if they show up to your bird feeders. I have personally witnessed these feisty rodents chase away more than FIVE Eastern Gray Squirrels away from my feeding station so that they can have the place to themselves. (Watch the video below to see for yourself!)
Feeding birds is a challenge with these squirrels around!
From a bird feeding perspective, American Red Squirrels present unique challenges if you want to prevent them from eating your birdseed. Here’s why:
- These squirrels are small enough to fit through most caged bird feeders. These feeders are designed to prevent larger squirrels (Eastern Gray, Fox) from fitting through while still allowing small songbirds to eat.
- Many bird feeders have been designed to be weight-sensitive and close if enough weight, like that from a squirrel, sits on the perch. Because American Red Squirrels are so small and light, they don’t force the perch to close on many feeders, which allows them to eat as much as they want.
Damage caused by an American Red Squirrel!
- These feisty squirrels will do almost ANYTHING to get access to where you store your bird food. For example, I keep my seed stored in a shed, either in metal bins or plastic 5-gallon buckets with lids. As you can see from the damage above, American Red Squirrels are the only animals at my house that chew through hard plastic to get to the seed. Luckily, they haven’t figured out how to chew through metal… yet. 🙂
#3. 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 North Carolina.
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 many locations out west where they are not native, including California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, North Dakota, Washington, New Mexico, British Columbia, and Ontario. Fox Squirrels are putting pressure on native squirrel species due to their ability to outcompete them.
Fox Squirrels seem to thrive around people.
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!
When I first heard about flying squirrels, I didn’t believe the person describing them to me.
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.
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 North Carolina, there are TWO flying squirrel species you can observe:
#4. Northern Flying Squirrel
Scientific Name: Glaucomys sabrinus
Average Length (Including tail): 9.8 – 14.6 inches / 25 – 37 cm
Weight: 3.9 – 8.1 oz / 110 – 230 grams
Lifespan: Not much is known, but it seems that most individuals live less than 4 years. Owls are their main predator, which makes sense since both species are nocturnal.
These squirrels have cinnamon or light brown colored fur, with whitish fur on their belly. You will notice their huge black eyes, which help them see at night!
Northern Flying Squirrel Range Map
To find a Northern Flying Squirrel, you will need to look in forests dominated by conifer trees.
Southern Flying Squirrels, which are closely related, prefer living in deciduous forests. Because of this fact, these two species rarely have ranges that overlap.
While these nocturnal rodents eat nuts and acorns like typical diurnal tree squirrels, it’s not the majority of their diet. Interestingly, fungi (mushrooms) and lichens are their main source of nutrition. Some other foods that are eaten include insects, bird eggs, and tree sap.
Unlike most other squirrels, Northern Flying Squirrels don’t gather and store much food for winter. Since they don’t hibernate and are active during the whole year, there is not as big a need as other squirrel species to cache food. But when temperatures do drop in winter, it’s common for many individual squirrels to come together to help each other stay warm!
It is rare to find these squirrels on the ground since they are incredibly clumsy walkers. If a predator approaches, they will typically try to hide instead of run away. Most of their time is spent at the tops of trees, gliding from branch to branch. Their average length of glides is between 16 – 82 feet (5 – 25 meters). I wish these squirrels could be seen during the day because watching them glide these distances would be incredible to see!
#5. Southern Flying Squirrel
Scientific Name: Glaucomys volans
Average Length (Including tail): 8.3 – 10.2 inches / 21 – 26 cm
Weight: 2- 3 oz / 56 – 85 grams
Lifespan: On average, they live just a few years, and it’s rare for an individual to see the age of five. Predators include owls, hawks, snakes, bobcats, raccoons, foxes, and domestic cats.
If you ever see one during daylight, you will get to observe fur that is reddish-brown or gray, while its belly is cream white. Large, black eyes take up much of their head, which is needed to help them see at night. Southern Flying Squirrels are a bit smaller than their cousins, Northern Flying Squirrels.
Range Map – Southern Flying Squirrel
Southern Flying Squirrels are common in North Carolina.
But even though they are common, almost nobody knows they exist or sees them! Like other flying squirrels, this species is nocturnal and spends most of its time in the canopies of deciduous forests.
Southern Flying Squirrels often visit bird feeders at night, feeding on sunflower seeds and peanuts. Luckily, I have a camera that watches my bird feeding station, and it has incredible night vision! Check out the video below to see one come down from the trees and stay for dinner. 🙂
If you want to watch more LIVE bird feeder cameras, check out this post -> 8 LIVE Bird Feeder Cams From Around the World!
These squirrels are extremely social and are often observed foraging, gliding, and resting together in large groups. In winter, groups of up to 20 animals come together in one nest to conserve energy and stay warm.
Which of these squirrels have you seen before in North Carolina?
Leave a comment below!
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