Squirrels are among the most familiar wild mammals that we encounter, both in our backyards and out in the wilderness. Unlike many mammals, squirrels are diurnal and their energetic antics make them highly conspicuous.
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The Pacific Northwest is home to numerous ground squirrels and tree squirrels, including a couple non-native species.
The Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii)– also called a Chickaree– is the species you are most likely to see in the forests of western Washington and Oregon. These bold little animals are very vocal and will often bark, growl, or whistle at (i.e. ‘scold’) those they perceive as intruders, including well-intentioned hikers and naturalists.
Douglas Squirrels are 11-14 in length (28-36 cm). They have brown fur on their backs and orange or orange-white fur on their bellies. A black line may run along the squirrel’s sides, dividing the dorsal and ventral fur.
The ears are tipped with black tufts and their is a ring of light-colored fur around the eye.
The non-native Eastern Fox Squirrel looks a little like a Douglas Squirrel. If you live in an urban area, you are more likely to see the larger Fox Squirrel.
Habitat and Range
Douglas Squirrels live in coniferous forests from British Columbia south to the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. You can see a range map here.
Old tree cavities excavated by woodpeckers are used as nests by Douglas Squirrels in the winter (they do not hibernate). The squirrels make dreys out of abandoned crow nests and use these in the warmer months.
The primary food source for this squirrel is nuts from conifer cones, including those from fir, pine, spruce, and hemlock. Piles of Douglas Fir cone scales at the base of a tree are evidence of Douglas Squirrel feeding.
Green cones are clipped from trees by Douglas Squirrels in the autumn. The squirrels then stash the cones in caches called middens. Hollow spaces under logs or rocks are common places for middens. A midden serves as a sort of pantry in winter, when food is otherwise scarce for squirrels. Hundreds of cones might be piled in a midden and these may accessed for several years.
Douglas Squirrels also east mushrooms, berries, and seeds.
Owls, Northern Goshawks, American Martens, Bobcats, foxes, Coyotes, and domestic cats all eat Douglas Squirrels.