Eastern Grey Squirrel

Common Name: Eastern Grey Squirrel.

Scientific Name: Sciurus Carolinensis.

What to look for?  Yes, you know what to look for as we all know squirrels! But here’s a brief description anyway. The body fur of the Eastern Grey Squirrel appears to be gray in color but instead is a mixture of blacks, whites and browns. It is a whitish tip on the ends of their hairs that generate the "gray" illusion. They are a medium-sized tree squirrel. They have an eye ring that is white or cream. There are white tips present on the back of the ears. The triangular hind feet have five complete digits, while the round forefeet lack a complete thumb. The Eastern Grey Squirrel as a bushy tail bordered with white hairs. This long, bushy tail is used for warmth, balance, and shade, and as a means of communication with other squirrels.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? You will see the Eastern Grey Squirrel scurrying across your lawns and up in your trees as well as the trees in the woodlands across Carillon Stonegate Pond.

How big are they? The Eastern Grey Squirrel can reach up to twenty inches in total length, including a bushy tail that reaches over eight inches in length. And they weigh about one pound.

How else do they behave? The Eastern Grey Squirrel spends the majority of their time during the day in summer and fall caching food for the winter. Caching, also called hoarding, is a behavior characterized by storing stashes of food for later. Squirrels usually do this by putting their food in a shallow hole and covering it up. In the winter, squirrels spend less time foraging outside their dens, and it’s more common for several squirrels to share a den. This behavior allows more animals to take shelter and also to keep each other warm. One other tactic Eastern Grey Squirrels use to keep warm in winter is shivering. Shivering isn’t just a sign that you’re cold; it also serves as a way to keep warm. The Eastern Grey Squirrel uses its tail for balance when dashing between tree branches or across utility wires.

What’s for dinner? Primarily nuts and seeds. The Eastern Grey Squirrel is an opportunist when it comes to finding food which allows them to live in a wide variety of habitats. Its diet varies with the seasons and depending on what is available at the time. In early spring, you may see them feeding on buds at the tips of the maple and other hardwood trees in the woodlands north / northwest of Carillon Stonegate Ponds. During the summer, the winged seeds of maple and elm seeds are the important food items. The Eastern Grey Squirrel will also feed on a wide variety of berries and other wild fruits, seeds, nuts, and apples. In the autumn, hard nuts, including acorns, hickory nuts, butternuts, walnuts, beechnuts, and pine seeds, are their most important foods. These squirrels become industrious hoarders at this time of year, burying hundreds of nuts and seeds for the winter, when other foods will be relatively scarce.

Where do they take up residence? The Eastern Grey Squirrel is found all over the eastern United States to just west of the Mississippi River and north to Canada. They are abundant in city parks, suburbs, and rural woodlands. They reside up in trees. A key requirement is a habitat that has plenty of nut trees such as oaks and walnuts that produce foods that will feed the Eastern Grey Squirrel through winter.

When and where do they breed and nest? There are two breeding cycles per year with one in December-February and May-June. You have probably seen their nests up in the trees around the neighborhood and woodlands of Carillon Stonegate Pond. These nests are constructed of twigs in the branches of trees and lined with grass or bark. Two litters are born each year in late winter and midsummer with generally two to four young per litter. Adult size and mass are reached at nine months.

Where do they migrate? No. The Eastern Grey Squirrel does not hibernate in winter. They rely on their fat reserves and stored food supplies to survive the long, cold winters. In the bitter cold, winter weather, they will stay hunkered down in their den rather than venture out. When there is a break in the weather (not below 30 degrees Fahrenheit), they will venture out to retrieve some of the food they squirreled away during the summer and fall.  These food forages are calculated risks in which the use of energy (fat) reserves must yield a "profit" or the squirrel's vital fat insulation layer will be steadily lost and the individual will be unable to survive the winter.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Eastern Grey Squirrels communicate among themselves with a variety of vocalizations and postures, such as tail flicking. They also have a keen sense of smell.

Interesting Facts About Eastern Grey Squirrels:

  • Eastern Grey Squirrels provided food for Native Americans and colonists.

  • During the spring, summer and autumn, squirrels have their peak activity times about two hours after sunrise and two to five hours before sunset. This allows them to avoid the heat of the day – perhaps, we can learn from this behavior?

  • They bury food in winter caches using a method called scatter hoarding and locate these caches using both memory and smell.

  • It is estimated that Eastern Grey Squirrels and other squirrels will find and bury three (3) years supply of food every fall!

  • While they spend most of their time up in trees, the Eastern Grey Squirrel has great mobility on the ground and can reach speeds of up to 15 miles per hour.

  • Eastern Grey Squirrel predators include American mink, other weasels, red foxes, bobcats, grey wolves, coyotes, lynx, and red-tailed hawks and other birds of prey.

  • Gray squirrels are diurnal animals. Their eyes are adapted to high light levels and have even greater visual acuity than human eyes.

  • The average life span of the Eastern Grey Squirrel is six years.

For more information on Eastern Grey Squirrels and sources of information used in this blog (these are several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit University of Michigan Animal Diversity, Illinois DNR, Nature Mapping Foundation, Penn State University and Canadian Wildlife Federation.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.

 

Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!