The gray squirrel is one of Minnesota's most common wildlife species. It is often seen in backyards, parks and wooded rural areas. Because of its thick furry tail, it is sometimes called bushytail.
The eastern gray squirrel and eastern fox squirrel are among the most sought-after small game animals in Minnesota. A squirrel pressed in hiding against a tree is a challenging target. Moreover, its speed on the ground and through the treetops has vexed many a squirrel hunter.
General description: Gray squirrels may have white or brownish bellies and, in winter, white ear tufts. Black and albino squirrels are variations of the gray squirrel.
Length: Eight to 10 inches, with a tail roughly the same length.
Weight: 1.5 pounds.
Color: Mostly gray with a white to rusty-colored underside and rust-colored ears.
Sounds: Squirrels make a variety of sounds including a harsh chirping or chattering noise when they are angry or scared.
Gray squirrels mate twice a year, typically from December to February and /or June through August. They nest in tree hollows or in a tree-top den, which is a 12- to 19-inch ball-shaped nest made of leaves, twigs and bark. Mother squirrels have 2 to 4 babies, which are born hairless and weigh 1/2 ounce. By the time they are 12 weeks old, young squirrels are completely independent.
Acorns, hazelnuts, walnuts, and seeds of many trees, plus fungi, and elm buds in late winter--all are important foods for squirrels. Squirrels are accused of digging up lawns as they bury acorns. They may also dig up flower bulbs and, in years past, were serious pests around small cornfields and wooden corn cribs.
Cats, hawks, coyotes, foxes, weasels, bobcats. Some people hunt and eat gray squirrels.
Habitat and range
Gray squirrels live in hardwood forests, wooded parks and residential areas. They are found throughout Minnesota but are most common in hardwoods in the central part of the state. They make their homes in tree cavities but also build leafy nests in summer and fall. By chewing on the scars where small dead branches have fallen, squirrels help to make nesting cavities for future generations. [Fungi soon invades the wood, softening it to create the hollows.]
Population and management
Squirrel numbers have increased in recent years due to suburban sprawl and backyard bird feeders. Gray squirrels are one of the few animals that thrive in areas where houses break up natural woodlands. Each year, Minnesota hunters harvest about 150,000 gray squirrels.
A gray squirrel can hide 25 nuts in a half an hour and can later find roughly 80 percent of the those it buried. Hunters will sometimes trick a gray squirrel into showing itself by clicking two quarters together, which makes a squirrel-like sound.