Sciurus carolinensis (Eastern Gray Squirrel)

Medium-sized gray rodent with a large bushy tail and a white underside

Length: Body: 9-12 in. Tail: 7-9 in.

Weight: 0.9-3 lbs.

Range: much of eastern North America south of the Hudson Bay and east of the Dakotas and central Texas

Diet: oak, hickory, walnut, beech seeds; pine cones, shoots, buds, fungi, berries, insects, tree bark

Mating: Mating occurs in mid-summer and winter, gestation period ~45 days, average litter of 2-3.

Life Expectancy: ~6 years in the wild; high mortality rates among adolescents

The Eastern Gray Squirrel is one of the most abundant and commonly seen mammals in the eastern U.S. They can easily be spotted frolicking around parks, suburbs, and college campuses. Here, human activity has chased away most predators and competitors, providing added protection as well as easy forage. Gray squirrels are most famous for eating nuts, but they also forage for fungi, bird’s eggs, and occasionally berries. Gray Squirrels frequent the Bur Oak and Black Walnut groves of the Arb, and particularly favor areas with denser undergrowth. They are even more ubiquitous on Carleton’s campus, particularly near the Bald Spot. Here, they forage on the nuts and fruits dropped by nearby trees and the refuse left by students and faculty as an added bonus. Contrary to popular belief, squirrels do not hibernate in winter, but rather go into a period of inactivity. They emerge to forage from scattered caches of nuts made on warmer days. A common squirrel sign that is often overlooked is the messy, leafy nests they build near the tops of trees. In winter, the squirrels den in hollow trees or old woodpecker cavities with other squirrels for warmth. If you can’t see the nest itself, watch for squirrels carrying twigs, pine straw, and other materials in their mouths, which they use to make their abode nice and cozy.