Squirrels common to the Albany, Clifton Park, East Greenbush and Schenectady Areas◀ Back To Blog
December 10, 2012
The squirrel family includes tree squirrels (gray, red, fox), flying squirrels, chipmunks, marmots (woodchuck), antelope squirrels, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs. While not all species occur here, New York State is home to a number of squirrel species which are readily seen by many people year-round.
Squirrels are distinguished from all other rodents by their thickly furred bushy tails. In fact, that "banner tail" is so characteristic of tree squirrels that it serves as the basis for naming these small mammals. Squirrels come in a wide variety of colors. All squirrels have chisel-like front teeth, sharp claws and strong legs. Most have clusters of sensitive whiskers on their faces and front legs to help navigate climbing trees or tunneling in the earth.
Most species of squirrels are active during the daytime, so hearing noises during the day can be associated with squirrels. Some ground-dwelling squirrels will hibernate in the winter. Highly territorial, squirrels usually expel intruders from their "home turf." That’s why you may see a red squirrel or even a chipmunk chase off a much larger gray squirrel. Long-lived for rodents, squirrels average 3-5 years old, but can live up to 8-10 years in the wild, which is several times longer than the usual year or two for most smaller rodents.
When most New Yorkers think of squirrels, this is the species they picture. Typical of a tree squirrel–sure-footed and having a "banner-tail"– the gray squirrel is widespread and abundant, living in nearly all areas of the state. It is at home in both urban and natural areas, sometimes even more abundant near homes than in woodlands. The gray squirrel likes large trees, such as oaks and hickories, which produce both food and denning sites. A lively and energetic squirrel, it can climb very quickly and is capable of jumping long distances from tree to tree, or limb to limb. Although it prefers to gather food in trees, once nuts and other seeds drop, the gray squirrel is forced to forage on the ground where it becomes more vulnerable to predation by coyotes, foxes, hawks and great horned owls. An adult male gray squirrel weighs about 1.5 pounds
The red squirrel is a small, aggressive squirrel that primarily lives in areas with abundant evergreens. It gets its name from the rich rusty coloration along its back and tail, which is separated from its whitish belly and chest by a short, black "racing stripe." A red squirrel seems to almost never walk, but rather runs or climbs trees in quick and sudden bursts of energy, sometimes chattering and scolding loudly along the way. Larger than a chipmunk, but smaller than a gray squirrel, an adult red squirrel weighs about one-half of a pound. In areas such as the Adirondacks, the red squirrel is far more abundant than the gray.
New York is home for two species of flying squirrels: the southern and the northern. The southern flying squirrels live primarily south of the Mohawk River Valley, while northern flying squirrels are more often found in the northern part of New York. Occasionally seen during the day, these largely nocturnal squirrels are most active at night. The northern flying squirrel is reddish brown in color; the southern flying squirrel is a more mouse-like gray color. Flying squirrels do not actually fly, but rather glide. By extending their feet, they cause the large flaps of skin found along the sides of their bodies to stretch tight, forming a wing-like structure. Southern flying squirrels eat seeds, nuts, berries, lichens, fresh leaves and flowers. Northern species feed more heavily on lichens and fungi. Both species are also somewhat carnivorous. Flying squirrels can often be regular visitors to bird-feeders, though primarily at night. Averaging only about two ounces, they are the smallest of New York's squirrels.
The Eastern chipmunk may be one of New York's most abundant and easily recognized small mammals. Active during the day, it scurries about in an unending search for food–nuts, berries, tender flowers, leaves, and seeds, as well as small invertebrates like snails and insects. Unlike its other squirrel cousins, the chipmunk has several distinct stripes along its body: five dark stripes and two white or buff stripes. Capable of climbing, it prefers to stay on the ground, and often goes underground. An energetic animal, the chipmunk might disappear down one hole, only to reappear seconds later ten feet away. A chipmunk stores food in its large cheek pouches until it can chew and digest it in the relative security of an underground hole. Although not a true hibernator, the Eastern chipmunk is less active in the winter, emerging as soon as soil and air temperatures begin to warm in the spring. A small squirrel, it weighs about four ounces.
A type of marmot, the woodchuck is New York's largest member of the squirrel family, with an adult woodchuck weighing as much as 12 pounds, though most average about 7 pounds. It has a chunky body, which it keeps low to the ground. Ranging from dark blonde to brown, the woodchuck's coat is long and coarse. Often spotted along roadways, the woodchuck prefers open lands, such as farmlands and fields, but also occurs near homes, sometimes doing great damage to vegetable and flower gardens. The woodchuck lives underground in a sometimes extensive network of tunnels and burrows. It hibernates during the winter. A woodchuck stands up on its hind legs to search its surroundings, and quickly runs for the nearest hole when alarmed. Though it prefers not to, the woodchuck can climb, and occasionally even gets up into the low lying limbs of trees.