A native of Washington, Oregon and California, the western gray squirrel (Sciurus griseus) is active throughout the year and hides only during bad weather. This tree squirrel builds a stick nest (called a drey) with a central cavity lined with moss or other soft material, preferring conifers for constructing its home. The gray squirrel will also line a hole in an oak to use for shelter. Many times two nests are built, one for raising a litter and another for shelter.
Very similar in appearance to the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), the western gray squirrel is gray with a salt and pepper effect. The under surface of its body is white. The long, broad tail, used for counterbalance and as a “rudder”, is gray and margined in white. When raised it resembles a bottle brush. Except where it has been introduced in western cities, the eastern gray squirrel is found in the East as far as the Dakotas, Kansas and Texas.
Using the front and hind legs in pairs, the gray squirrel’s gait is bounding. It easily runs overhead on branches and can leap across gaps from tree to tree. When on alert or disturbed it spreads its tail lavishly like an umbrella. Auditory calls warn of danger.
Although pine seeds and acorns are main staples, the western gray squirrel has a varied diet consisting of other nuts and seeds as well as berries, mushrooms, buds and bark. I even read once that it will take bird eggs. Without cheek pouches this squirrel does not carry and hoard food, but instead must consume food where it is found. Excess food is buried here and there throughout the squirrel’s range and located by smell when needed. Western gray squirrels will girdle the stems of young conifers.
This western gray squirrel, also commonly called a banner-tail and California, Columbian or Oregon gray squirrel, was photographed in Mountain View Park in Ashland OR. I stalked it across a little meadow and eventually the squirrel climbed up into a tree. It sat totally immobile in a forked branch with its tail erect. I was not certain if the squirrel thought I could not see it or if that was a defensive response. It was a perfect photo-op. As soon as I took several pictures I left the area so as not to disturb Mr. Squirrel any further.