Common Kinds of Squirrels Around the Home

picture comparing a chipmunk and a squirrel, highlighting the fact that chipmunks have stripes on their face

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Squirrels (Sciuridae), the largest rodent family in terms of the total number of species, blend easily into every type of landscape, from residential areas to forests, fields and deserts

Discussions of common kinds of squirrels often starts by dividing squirrels into three general categories: ground squirrels; tree squirrels and flying squirrels. The presentation follows that general theme.

Ground Squirrels

pictureof an Arizona squirrel with a stripe

Ground Squirrels, including, chipmunks, marmots and prairie dogs, account for the vast majority of native squirrel species (56 of 66 documented species). Their practice of nesting in ground burrows explains their category name. It also explains the reason that ground squirrels often get labeled as pests. Sometimes moles and other ground dwelling animals might be blamed for creating problems in a well manicured lawn. Often the problem is caused by some ground squirrel species.

Most ground squirrels species spend their days foraging for food along the ground, however, some species are known to climb trees.

Golden-mantled ground squirrels (Spermophilus lateralis), small ground squirrels found in forested areas throughout the Western United States, can easily be confused with chipmunks. The top picture compares the Golden-mantled ground squirrel (in the front) with a striped faced chipmunk in the background. Chipmunks also show stripes on their bodies.

picture of a pair of rock squirrels

Many ground squirrels get named based on location. Rock Squirrels are common western ground squirrels that often appear in rocky habitats.

picture of a Mexican Ground Squirrel

The Mexican ground squirrel makes its home in the South Texas soil.

Tree Squirrels

picture of a fox squirrel

Estimates vary, however, North America hosts approximately ten different tree squirrel species.

Tree squirrels generally grow to a medium size, allowing them to nest in tree cavities or limbs. When they begin nesting in roofs, homeowners begin to label them as pests.

picture of a gray squirrel

Gray Squirrels and Fox Squirrels rank among the most common tree squirrels found in residential areas across the United States. They are active year round, often visiting backyard bird feeders. Depending on the sentiments of the people keeping the feeder filled, squirrel visits to bird feeders can also get them labeled as a problem. Other individuals solve the problem by providing old corn cob in a separate area of the yard to keep the squirrels away from the feeder.

The first picture shows a Fox Squirrel. The second picture shows a gray squirrel.

Flying Squirrels

Contrary to the name, no flying squirrel actually flies. Instead, with the aid of a layer of fur between their arms and legs which can be used like a parachute when pulled tight, they can glide from branch to branch and tree to tree.

Physically, they are small animals with a soft fur which is brown on the top and gray underneath. Individuals are about a foot long, half of which is the broad, flat tail. Biologists are unsure of their breeding habits but speculate that females produce one litter per year with about four babies per litter. Typically they are not found in residential areas.


picture of a townsend's chipmunk

Chipmunks, a genus (Tamias) of mammals in the squirrel family easily recognized by their facial stripes. Their practice of building underground dens puts them in the same subfamily as ground squirrels and prairie dogs.

With over twenty native chipmunk species, the Western United States represents ground central for the world's chipmunk population.

Small, cute and almost constantly in motion, it's no wonder that Alvin and his pals would find their way south, to Hollywood stardom. Normally squirrels cause more problems than chipmunks. However, like squirrels, chipmunks living in residential areas can make a mess in the attic.

The large number of native chipmunk species makes it difficult to identify any one species in areas that host multiple species. The Townsend's Chipmunk (Tamias townsendii), in the picture inhabits coniferous forests in the Pacific Northwest.

© 2007-2016 Patricia A. Michaels