What types of squirrels can you find in Washington?
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 7 types of squirrels that live in Washington!
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 Washington 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 Washington, 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 actually an invasive species in Washington and other parts of the 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 Washington 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 Washington.
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!
#4. 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 Washington, 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.
#5. 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
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.
Lastly, look for a distinct black stripe on the sides of these squirrels in summer, which fades or goes away completely in winter.
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. 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 Washington, there is ONLY ONE flying squirrel species you can observe:
#6. 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!
#7. 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
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 Washington?
Leave a comment below!
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