Quick Quiz

Take a look at the photo below and see if you can identify the subject.

What is this?

If you said “the tail of an eastern gray squirrel,” you’d be correct.

Eastern gray squirrel.

Now that you know what it is, did you know that eastern gray squirrels grow little tufts of white fur on their ears in winter?

White winter ear tufts.

Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are everywhere in the east. From east Texas to Saskatchewan and east to the Atlantic Coast gray squirrels are a familiar sight. They can be found in cities, towns, and rural areas. Wherever there are trees, you’re likely to see one, or many, of these bushy-tailed rodents.

E. gray squirrel.

City squirrels tend to be rather bold and confident in their ability to make a successful retreat from harm. Put up a bird feeder and you’ll see how confident, and agile, they really are.

Country gray squirrels are a bit more skittish than their suburban or urban relatives. Owls, hawks, fox, bobcat and coyote eat gray squirrels. And, the arboreal Rodentia are fair game for hunters. Some purist will tell you that Brunswick stew (a traditional southern stew) is not Brunswick stew without squirrel meat. One reference suggests that flying squirrel was the meat of choice for at least some Appalachian folks’ stew. I, however, think it more efficient to collect a few gray squirrels than try and track down flying squirrels (when’s the last time you saw a flying squirrel?), which are strictly nocturnal and quite a bit smaller. It may take several southern flying squirrels to equal the weight of just one fat gray squirrel.

You may have noticed their twig and leaf nests in various trees here at the Museum, or around town. This happens to be one of two breeding seasons for gray squirrels, the other occurring during May and June. If you see two or three squirrels chasing one another about the trees, they’re probably sorting out the breeding details.

Squirrel nests.

By the way, here’s what their tracks look like in snow.

Direction of travel, bottom to top.

There’s always something new to learn, even with such familiar creatures as gray squirrels.

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