Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger)

Eastern fox squirrel | Photo credit: Brian Henderson

The Eastern fox squirrel is a common sight in forests, wooded urban parks, and gardens of the Central and Eastern United States (except New England), including much of Texas, as well as northern Mexico and southern Canada.

The fox squirrel is the largest tree squirrel and about 20% larger than its close relative, the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Fox squirrels measure between 19 to 29 inches in length from head to tail tip and weigh between 1 and 3 pounds. Three color variations exist among fox squirrels: in the northeastern regions, they have grey backs with yellowish undersides; in the western part of their range (like much of Texas) they have gray backs with rust-colored undersides; in the south they may be black with a white mark on their face and on the tip of their tail.

Like all squirrels, fox squirrels forage on the ground and in trees, feeding on a variety of nuts, seeds and plants. Squirrels also occasionally feed on insects, bird eggs, or hatchlings. While not aggressive, squirrels can use their sharp teeth and curved claws for defense if necessary.

Adept climbers, squirrels take to the trees when danger threatens. Once safely out of reach, the squirrel lashes its bushy tail and scolds the intruder with a series of barks. Due to predation, squirrels normally do not live past six years of age. Numerous hawks and mammals prey upon squirrels, particularly the young. Squirrels are also frequently struck by vehicles.

Like other rodents, the fox squirrel is sometimes labelled as a pest. However, the squirrel’s innate desire to bury a stockpile of nuts plays an important part in reforestation. Each nut the squirrel fails to reclaim has the opportunity to sprout and grow into a new tree. Backyard birdfeeders are a favorite target of squirrel “raids”, requiring bird watchers to exercise some ingenuity of their own to thwart these furry bandits.

Squirrels are prevalent and can be readily observed at most Texas parks. For example, many wild squirrels can be found living on the grounds of the San Antonio Zoo, located in San Antonio’s Brackenridge Park.

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