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Gray Squirrel, Brown Squirrel?

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Gray squirrel, gray squirrel, swish your bushy tail . . . (famous children's song)

Just about every young child around here learns that song in preschool. But are all gray squirrels really gray? I have noticed some color variations in the past few years, and that got me wondering.

The other day I noticed an unusual-looking squirrel around my house. Its front half is gray, the standard color around here. But the back half is a rusty brown, which is not the usual color. This is not the first time I have seen unusual coloration in the neighborhood squirrels. A number of years ago we had white or creamy-colored squirrels in the area. I decided to find out more about squirrel color variation.

Here's what I found. The Eastern gray squirrel, native to the eastern and midwestern US, is usually gray. But it can also be brown, black, or red (reddish brown), or white. Or, as I have seen, a mix of two colors. The squirrels of different colors are known as color morphs—they are the same species, with color variations.And regular old gray squirrels change color with the seasons, wearing a darker gray coat in the summer and a silvery coat in the winter.

The Eastern gray squirrel is a common pest, because it likes the warmth of houses. I know, because I have had squirrels in my eaves a number of times at my house.

For more information Squirrel World, A Squirrel Place, and the Massachusetts Audobon Society have lots of fascinating facts about squirrels. For example, squirrels dash back and forth across a street when a car is coming because they are trying to confuse the "larger animal." Unfortunately for squirrels this technique is particularly unsuccessful for survival.

Let's take a look at some photos of different Eastern gray squirrels of different colors.These are all the same species.



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I don't see squirrels as pests, but maybe I should.  When I was in high school one was attempting to jump from the roof of my house to my dad's work shed. It missed and landed on my head!  My mom also spends a great deal of energy keeping them out out her bird feeders. I think they are kinda cute ;)

My father spent a lot of time trying to keep squirrels off the bird feeder. One time he had it all figured out—with a wide dome above a feeder that was strung on a rope across the yard. Then it snowed. It really snowed—two feet deep. And suddenly the squirrels could jump from the top of the snow pack onto the bottom of the feeder.

Squirrels 1, Dad 0.

That is a great story!

I know they are considered pests by many people.  I have heard them referred to as "rats with a better outfit".  And yet squirrels are so rare in my part of town that I can't help but find them charming and cute and sweet. I love seeing the lone squirrel that hangs out in my tree.  Here's his picture.


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