Squirrels: Nutty Neighbors

By Anne Cissel

They scamper, leap, and raid our bird feeders. Look out—they’re eastern gray squirrels!

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Eastern gray squirrels are the most common species of squirrel in the eastern half of the United States. Gray squirrels belong to a group called “tree squirrels,” but, as you can see here, a windowsill can be as comfy as a branch!

Trespassers! A mother gray squirrel checks in on her baby, which is cozy inside a bird house. This young squirrel is half grown. At birth, it was pink and hairless.

Sometimes squirrels make themselves at home . . . in your home! Unlike most wild animals, eastern gray squirrels are comfortable living close to humans.

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Eastern gray squirrels are not tame, but they can lose their fear of people. This one appears to be asking for a handout!

Go, squirrel, go! Nuts are a big part of a gray squirrel’s diet, but squirrels also eat berries, seeds, flowers, bark—even sometimes insects and small rodents!

Gray squirrels are born acrobats. Like this stretchy fellow, they leap from branch to branch, using their sharp claws to hang on. They also can scamper down trees headfirst with perfect control.

It’s hard to outsmart a squirrel, as anyone with a bird feeder knows. Not only can gray squirrels think of ways to steal birdseed, but they can keep track of many places they’ve hidden nuts and other tasty treats. The squirrels are also smart enough to fool other squirrels. If one thinks another squirrel is watching it, it will just pretend to bury a nut—and then bury it someplace else later.

Gray squirrels use their bushy tails for balance and to “talk” to each other. They flick their tails back and forth to say, “Danger!” Squirrels also make a lot of noise if they spot a threat: “Kuk! Kuk! Kuk!”

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Gray squirrels are busy with more than just finding food. They gather dead leaves and twigs to build cozy nests, or dreys ( DRAYZ), up in the trees (circle). They also will nest inside tree hollows, especially in colder areas.

A gray squirrel kit weighs only about half an ounce at birth. That’s half the weight of one AA battery! Kits will usually stay in the nest for three months.

Eastern gray squirrels aren’t the only squirrels in the United States. Meet a few of their American cousins!

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