is a guide to distinguish the state-threatened western gray squirrel from
other native squirrels (Douglas', red and flying) and from three introduced
species (Eastern gray, fox and California ground squirrel) with which
they can be readily confused. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
maintains records on the distribution of western gray squirrels in Washington;
your assistance is appreciated. Western gray, Douglas', red, and flying
squirrels are all protected species in Washington (WAC
The western gray
squirrel was added to Washington's list of state-threatened species
in 1993 when surveys indicated a decline in its geographical distribution.
The species was once common at low to mid-elevations in dry forests
where oak, pine, and Douglas-fir mix. It is now limited to 3 areas in
Washington: the southern Puget Trough, primarily on Fort Lewis Military
Reservation; the Methow Valley in Okanogan County and north shore of
Lake Chelan in Chelan County; and in the river valleys of Klickitat
and southern Yakima Counties. Threats to the persistence of the species
include habitat loss and degradation, fluctuating food supplies, disease,
and mortality resulting from road-kill and illegal hunting. State law RCW
77.15.130 (formerly RCW
77.16.120) protects nest trees used by western gray squirrels. Washington
Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists will consult with landowners
to protect and enhance oak/conifer habitat.
of squirrel occur in the three areas occupied by western gray squirrels
in Washington. Eastern gray, Douglas, and flying squirrels are present
in the southern Puget Trough; all species except California ground squirrels
are found in Chelan and Okanogan Counties; and Klickitat and southern
Yakima Counties are home to all but fox and red squirrels.
gray squirrel (Sciurus griseus)
12" Tail: 12"
Western gray squirrels are the largest native tree squirrels in Washington.
They are salt-and-pepper to steel gray on the back with contrasting
white underparts. They are distinguished by their very long and bushy
white-edged tails, large feet and prominent ears, which are reddish-brown
at the back in winter. Western gray squirrels forage in trees for
acorns and conifer seeds, but also search the ground for mushrooms
and bury acorns. They travel from tree to tree or on the ground in
graceful, wave-like leaps. They may vocalize in the fall with a hoarse
squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii)
7" Tail: 5"
Douglas' squirrels are small native tree squirrels. They are dark
chestnut on the back fading to a reddish- or brownish-gray on the
sides; their underparts are orange to gray and are offset by a short
black stripe. The eye ring is pale orange. Their tails are somewhat
bushy, slightly flattened and have a black tip. Douglas' squirrels
vocalize often and have a range of calls from a low "chirr" to a sharp
squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
Body: 8" Tail: 6.5"
Red squirrels are native and closely resemble their cousin the Douglas'
squirrel. Their coat is typically reddish-brown on the back, fading
to brown on the sides. A black line contrasts with the white belly
in summer, but fades as the whole coat brightens in winter. The eye
has a prominent white ring. The ranges of red and Douglas' squirrels
overlap in the North Cascades Mountains.
flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus)
Body: 5" Tail: 7"
Northern flying squirrels are native and are found throughout forested
parts of the state. They have dense, silky cinnamon to gray-brown
fur above and a cream-colored belly. They have wide, flat tails, large
dark eyes and relatively long ears. A fur-covered fold of skin stretches
from the wrist to the ankle and is extended outward when they glide.
They are rarely seen because they are nocturnal and sleep in tree
cavities or stick nests during the day.
gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
Body: 10.5" Tail: 8"
Eastern gray squirrels are mid-sized, with relatively narrow tails
and short ears compared to western gray squirrels. They have a pale
gray coat with a reddish-brown wash on the face, back and tail. Their
underparts are creamy white. Eastern gray squirrels were first introduced
into Washington in 1925. They are now common in many cities, and thrive
in developed areas. Livetrapped squirrels should not be released outside
their known Washington range.
squirrel (Sciurus niger)
Body: 13" Tail: 11"
Fox squirrels are large with variable reddish-brown to pale gray backs
and red to yellow-orange underparts. They have broad tails, coarse,
grizzled fur and short ears. Fox squirrels can be found in habitats
with fewer trees than most other tree squirrels. They were introduced
into Washington from the southeastern United States and occur in urban
and rural environments in several parts of the state.
ground squirrel (Spermophilus beecheyi)
Body: 11" Tail: 7"
California ground squirrels have large heads and stout bodies. Their
upperparts are gray-brown with light flecks and the belly is offwhite.
A triangle of dark fur on the back contrasts with white-tinged shoulders.
Their tails are gray above and off-white below, and can be narrow
They may be
seen in trees, but spend most of their time on the ground, where
they run belly to the ground. This species entered Washington in
1912 when bridges were built across the Columbia River. California
ground squirrels, also called "gray diggers", are hunted
in Washington; special care should be taken to distinguish between
these and western gray squirrels.
All tree squirrels
may build or use stick and leaf nests and some use tree cavities for
denning. Western gray squirrel nests are large and are often clustered
in dry oak/conifer forests, not far from water. Occupied nests may have
fresh leaves, conifer boughs, or lichen on top. California ground squirrels
nest in underground burrows. Chewed cones and needle clusters on the
ground may be a sign of western gray squirrel feeding activity. Large
piles of cone scales generally indicate Douglas' or red squirrels.
For more information
or to report western gray squirrel sightings contact:
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 600
Capitol Way North Olympia, Washington 98501-1091