Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)


Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) 


Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), often more specifically called the Eastern Gray Squirrel, are mammals from the Squirrel Family (Sciuridae) that includes two other "squirrels" in the area of French Hill Pond, the Red Squirrel and Northern Flying Squirrel all of which are technically called tree squirrels. All tree squirrels climb trees. Other members of the Squirrel Family in the area of French Hill Pond include ground squirrels specifically the Woodchuck and Eastern Chipmunk. The family name, Sciuridae, means "shade-tail" because most members of this family have bushy tails that they habitually hold over their backs when they sit. Squirrels are of the order Rodentia, that is, rodents. The photograph above shows a Gray Squirrel on a deck railing near French Hill Pond during winter.

The Gray Squirrel can be up to about 20 inches (51 centimeters) longl. It is the largest of the tree squirrels on Mount Desert Island. The upper body and tail are gray to black  with some rust-colored highlights. The front of the head is rust-colored around the nose, eyes and ears.  The tail has fur with silvery tips, which helps distinguish it from the Red Squirrel. The undersides are buff white. Gray Squirrels may also be albino.

These squirrels communicate with a number of different vocalizations and with the movement of their tails.

The Gray Squirrel feeds on bark, fungi, acorns, nuts and seeds. Unlike the Red Squirrel, the Gray Squirrel poses no threat to nesting birds and other animals unless food is scarce. Like the Red Squirrel, it will bury nuts helping to propagate trees and shrubs. Squirrels do not remember where specific nuts are buried but remember general areas where nuts are buried and are able to smell them even under as much as a foot (30 centimeters) of snow. In deeper snow, the Gray Squirrel will tunnel to search for food.

This squirrel will build a nest, called a "drey," of leaves and other organic matter in a tree or establish residence in the cavity of a tree. Occasionally, they will construct nests in buildings but are less likely to do so than the Red Squirrel.  They will have a litter of two or three young in the spring and later in the summer.

This common mammal will be seen virtually everywhere on Mount Desert Island. In more urban areas, the Gray Squirrel will displace the smaller and weaker Red Squirrel by starving them out because the predators of the Gray Squirrel like skunks, raccoons and owls are fewer in numbers. An adequate number of these predators on Mount Desert Island keeps the Gray Squirrel population in check permitting the Red Squirrel to thrive as well. Gray Squirrels are often hunted for human food but hunting them is not permitted on Mount Desert Island. Some people keep Gray Squirrels as pets. However, keeping a wild animal as a pet is not allowed in Maine. Gray Squirrels can live as long as 20 years in captivity but live only about 12 years in the wild.

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