Thirteen species of ground squirrels are native to the Pacific States. All make nests in the ground and have cheek pouches for transporting food to their burrows. They are rather easy to distinguish because of their varying patterns of stripes, spots and flecking.
The California ground squirrel (Spermophilus beecheyi) could be confused with a Western gray squirrel (which is not a ground squirrel), but the ground squirrel has light flecking on its back and its tail is also not as bushy or long as the tree squirrel’s. Their habitats and behavior are also very different.
Named after Frederick William Beechey, who explored much of northern California in 1826-1828 as the captain of HMS Blossom, the California ground squirrel is also called a Beechey ground squirrel.
California ground squirrels prefer open, well-drained areas and are particularly partial to grain fields and grassy fields. They can often be seen running across roads or sitting upright at the edge of the road with their paws across their chests. When the ground squirrel senses danger it makes a sharp alarm cry and disappears down its burrow. The California ground squirrel never ventures much more than about 100 feet from its burrow.
Adults are active only a few months of the year. The males emerge from their underground burrows as soon as the snow melts, followed soon after by the females. They breed very early in the spring. The females raise one litter a season. The warmer the habitat the larger the litters, however, the average is about seven babies. Following a one month gestation period the babies remain in the nest for about five weeks before emerging above ground. Males will retreat into the nest in the early summer. Later in the summer after weaning the young, the females also go underground. Any ground squirrels observed in the fall and winter are young.
California ground squirrels eat seeds, fruits, mushrooms, insects and nuts which they cache underground in their burrows. Although ground squirrels enter true hibernation, in the winter they will wake up for a day or two, move about in the burrow and eat before hibernating again. They can do damage to grain and grass fields both by eating crops and building burrows. In the Sacramento Valley this ground squirrel is considered a particular pest because it collects the green almonds from orchards.
Fleas do not survive the winter where we live in Modoc County so are not a problem here. In warmer areas the ground squirrels are infested with fleas and the diseases fleas carry.
Diurnal in habits, California ground squirrels are preyed upon by large hawks, eagles, coyotes, snakes and badgers.
This fellow was watching me from a fencepost near the house (Lookout CA). He, being a curious fellow, disappeared into the grass where he continued to observe me while I took a few pictures. Obviously he was not as well concealed as he thought.