Eastern Gray Squirrel
Web Site Name
Common Name: Eastern Gray Squirrel
Scientific Name:  Sciurus carolinensis

Range: Throughout the entire eastern portion of the United States, from Florida to Canada. They live everywhere from forests to parks, from gardens to city blocks.

Life Span: In the wild, squirrels can live from 5 to 8 years, although predation and motor vehicles definitely take a toll. There have been individuals known to live as long as 20 years in captivity.

General Information: The most common mammal in the eastern US, gray squirrels are arboreal. They range from light to dark gray, with some reddish coloring over the hips, feet and head. Their abdomens are white to pale gray or sometimes light beige and their tails are light gray with some white tipped hairs interspersed. There is no coloration difference between males and females. Average size can vary from 15-20 inches total length and weight from 10 ounces to about 1.5 pounds.
     Gray squirrels have both a summer and winter coat and molt twice a year. They have 4 sets of whiskers (above and below the eyes, on the nose and on the underside of the chin, in front of the throat). These whiskers, also known as vibrissae, provide the squirrel with information on its surroundings. Squirrels have keen hearing and very sharp vision, even in dim light. Their sense of smell is also very acute.
     Gray squirrels have both upper and lower incisor teeth, which continue to grow all their lives to counter the constant wear from their diet. Their back teeth are the grinding teeth, used to pulverize the food they ingest.
     The gray squirrel's tail is long and fluffy and is used for many purposes: shelter from the sun, protection from rain, warmth during long winter nights, for balance when jumping from tree to tree, and even as a rudder when swimming. Squirrels are excellent swimmers, when they are obliged to do so.
     Gray squirrels are well adapted to climbing and jumping from branch to branch and live in trees year round. Their nests can be built of leaves high up in the crook of a tree or in a tree cavity. A nest made of leaves, placed in a tree crotch is called a "drey" and can be built either for summer or winter use, with winter dreys being more elaborately built. Dreys are waterproof and are lined with moss, leaves, fur, feathers, lichen or any other soft materials they may find. Nests in tree cavities (tree dens) are often preferred during the cold winter months.
     These squirrels are active year round; even on the coldest days, they will leave the nest for short periods. They are crepuscular animals, being most active in the morning and early evening. Most of their time out of the nest is spent looking for food or nesting material.

Diet and Feeding Habits: Gray squirrels are herbivores, although may occasionally ingest animal matter. Their diet consists of a variety of plant matter, including acorns, hickory nuts, beechnuts, maple buds and bark, flowers, grapes, grasses, leaves, pine tree seeds, apples, fungi, and seed from various plants. They will also eat bird eggs, baby birds, insects and amphibians (frogs). They will also steal food from bird feeders and are fond of digging up flower bulbs for a quick snack.
     Squirrels often bury their food and grays are what is called "scatterhoarders". They bury food at a new spot each time, usually just under the surface. Then, during winter when food is scarce, their keen sense of smell helps them locate these tidbits. However, since they never find all of their buried treasures, they contribute to the growth of new trees and plants when the buried items sprout.

Reproduction: Frequently, male grays can be seen chasing the females up, down and around the trees. This is part of the 'courtship' ritual. Gray squirrels have two breeding seasons per year, resulting in two litters of babies per year. Each litter, on average, consists of 2-3 babies, although often as many as six babies can be found in one litter.
     The second litter, born in late summer, often stays with the mother over winter. A female squirrel can produce a litter when she is as young as 5 months, but most do not reproduce until a year and 3 months old. For information on the development of baby squirrels see our Baby Squirrels page.