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Tree Squirrels

red squirrel in tree
Red Squirrel

What kinds of squirrels live around your home area? I am thinking of tree squirrels, not ground squirrels such as the flickertail. Three of the more common tree squirrels in North Dakota are the fox, eastern gray, and red.

The fox squirrel is the most common and widely distributed squirrel in the state. However, some people call them red squirrels, as opposed to the eastern gray squirrels. We will come back to red squirrels in a bit. It is interesting to note that the fox squirrel may not be a North Dakota native. Robert Seabloom in his Mammals of North Dakota notes that they may have expanded their range into North Dakota from Minnesota and South Dakota in the early 1940s. The species has now become widespread in wooded areas across the state.

Reports of eastern gray squirrels in North Dakota did not begin until the early 1900s when they were observed in the wooded areas of the southeastern part of the state. They can now be found over much of the state except for the extreme southwest and the northern border counties. Range expansion, as well as introductions into cities such as Valley City, Jamestown, Bismarck, and Minot were factors in their expanded range.

Gray and fox squirrels are similar in size and form but differ in color. Red squirrels, on the other hand, are much smaller, have a reddish body, white underparts, and a white ring around the eye. They also have a dark band of hair bordering the white belly and upper body. They are not nearly as widely distributed in the state as the fox or eastern gray squirrels. Their range is largely restricted to the timbered areas in the counties along and adjacent to the states eastern border and the northern tier of counties westward to Burke County. That of course includes Turtle Mountain and the Pembina Hills. They may also occur in the ponderosa pine stands south of Medora and along the Knife River in Mercer County.

These squirrels are active throughout much of the winter, so perhaps you will be entertained by at least one of the species.

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of “Natural North Dakota” and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005 he has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for North Dakota’s newest newspaper, the Lake Metigoshe Mirror. His columns also appear under “The Naturalist” in several other weekly newspapers across North Dakota.
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