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What Is a Tree Squirrel?

Jennifer Voight
Jennifer Voight

A tree squirrel is a diurnal rodent of the family Sciuridae, which also contains flying squirrels and ground squirrels. These animals are familiar to most people, as they are active during the day, exist around the world, and are common in urban and residential areas as well as in natural areas. Tree squirrels have small ears; a long, bushy tail; and may be gray, red, or even white or black. A tree squirrel may be distinguished from other squirrels in that it lives in and spends most of its time in trees rather than in burrows in the ground as other squirrels do.

Many species of tree squirrel will have two litters of between two and four young per year. Young tree squirrels will wean around eight weeks of age. They tend to be solitary, but are not territorial and will co-exist with many other squirrels close by. Tree squirrels do not hibernate during the winter, although they may be less active during cold periods. Activity will increase in late winter when mating season begins.

Much of a tree squirrel’s time is spent foraging for nuts, seeds, and fruit. Tree squirrels will also eat corn, berries, and insects. They store food by burying or hiding it in crevices in trees. Sometimes this behavior can lead to lawn damage.

A red squirrel.
A red squirrel.

As the tree squirrel has teeth that never stop growing, it must gnaw on nutshells or bones to wear them down. This behavior may cause a tree squirrel to chew on siding, wooden decks or porches, or other man-made structures, causing some people to consider tree squirrels pests. They also like many of the same seeds that birds do and will feed from bird feeders. Power outages are occasionally caused by tree squirrels gnawing on power lines.

In some populated areas, tree squirrels have become so accustomed to the presence of people that they will approach them and beg for food. A few become so fearless that they will take food from a person’s hand. Tree squirrels have been known to have stolen food from an unsuspecting human who turned her attention elsewhere for a few seconds. Occasionally, people find injured or orphaned tree squirrels and have nursed them back to health, sometimes keeping them as pets. It’s important to always check with local laws and regulations about keeping wildlife before approaching an injured or orphaned animal.

Some cultures trap and eat squirrels, especially rural parts of the U.S. and native cultures of some countries. They are plentiful, easy to catch, and are rumored to have a less gamey taste than other types of wild game. Tree squirrels may even appear on restaurant menus in some countries.

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    • A red squirrel.
      By: Eric Isselée
      A red squirrel.