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‘Squirreling away’ for a winter’s day

This gray squirrel transports a black walnut, a favored food and part of the forest mast, along with acorns, hickory nuts and beechnuts. Squirrels also consume berries, mushrooms, pine seeds and various tree fruits.
TRR photos by Sandy Long


December 19, 2012

Acrobatic artists of the treetops, gray squirrels navigate their habitats with skill and grace, leaping from branch to limb in an aerial circuit that is both impressive and entertaining. Technically a rodent, the gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is Pennsylvania and New York’s most common squirrel. Other native squirrels are the fox, red and nocturnal flying squirrels.

Weighing between 1 to 1½ pounds, adults are typically 18 to 20 inches in length, including their bushy tails, which they use to balance when jumping. All squirrels have chisel-like front teeth, sharp claws and a keen sense of hearing and smell. They see only in shades of black and white and are most active in early mornings and late afternoons.

Gray squirrels construct leaf nests in trees, built from twigs, leaves, bark and other plant materials. They also utilize tree dens in cavities created by woodpeckers or broken limbs. They breed in late winter or early spring, producing litters of four to five blind and hairless young.

Squirrels can live up to 10 years or longer, but the average life span is closer to between two to three years. Typical predators are coyotes, hawks, owls, foxes and some tree-climbing snakes, as well as humans. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, squirrels are the most heavily harvested small game species in the state.

Mixed deciduous forests with a variety of tree species such as maples, oaks, hickories and beech provide the best food supply for this species. Visit www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=596812&mode=2 to learn more.