Vol. 11 Issue 4, Winter 2006
By Nicole Hamilton
Most of us are familiar with the Gray Squirrel that visits our bird feeders and buries nuts in our gardens and lawns. The Gray Squirrel is overall gray with salt-and-pepper coloring and weighs up to about a pound. Its cousin, the Fox Squirrel, is the largest of the North American tree squirrels.
Historically, Fox Squirrels appeared across the Mid-Atlantic area, but now they are found primarily in the sandhills and coastal plains of South Carolina and North Carolina and the mountains of Virginia. We have them here in Loudoun County and when seen near a Gray Squirrel there is no mistaking the two.
Where the Gray Squirrel may reach lengths of 16-21”, the Fox Squirrel is 20-26” long (including the tail) and weighs 1.5 to 2.5 pounds. Fox Squirrels in the Piedmont and mountains of Virginia have strong yellow-brown coloring dorsally and have a rusty coloring on their ears, feet and underside of their tails.
Because they den in hollow tree trunks, Fox Squirrels prefer to live in mature longleaf pine-oak forests and deciduous forests. Unlike Gray Squirrels, which bury their food in seemingly random spots, Fox Squirrels store their food in large underground caches. Fox Squirrels are not as agile as the Gray Squirrel and spend most of their time on the ground, often foraging for acorns, hickory nuts, fungi, insects and various berries.
Neither the Fox Squirrel nor the Gray Squirrel roams more than 200 feet from its nesting tree, although they will build several nests across a few acres during periods of abundant food. Fox Squirrels are not social like the Gray Squirrel, although they will feed and sometimes den with other squirrels.
Along the coast of Maryland and Virginia, there is a subspecies of Fox Squirrel called the Delmarva Fox Squirrel. This species, while once widespread, now only exists in small numbers and is listed as endangered. Active management programs are now in place to assist in its recovery. While not endangered in Loudoun, the decline of Fox Squirrel numbers in general appears to be due to loss of habitat since these animals are so closely tied to mature forests.
Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland by Wm. David Webster, et. al.;
Living with Wildlife by The California Center for Wildlife