There are 13 species of ground squirrels native to the Pacific States. The Oregon ground squirrel (Citellus beldingi) lives in Eastern Oregon and Northeastern California. Perhaps more appropriately called a Belding ground squirrel, Oregon ground squirrel is the colloquial name with which I am most familiar, thus I will continue to use it. Oregon ground squirrels often sit up very straight and for this reason are also commonly called picket pins.
Oregon ground squirrels colonize arid meadows, fields, upland valleys and mountain slopes. They build large colonies of burrows and can cause extensive damage to grain fields and permanent pastures.
About 10″ tall, Oregon ground squirrels are about the size of a large rat. Brownish grey dorsally and buffy or buffy-white ventrally, these ground squirrels have some reddish-brown along their backs, but no stripes or specks on their pelt. The short tail is chestnut on the underside.
Oregon ground squirrels feed mainly on grass or grass seeds, using their cheek pouches to transport food to underground caches in their burrows. Oregon ground squirrels become torpid when food becomes scarce and hibernate throughout the winter. Although the literature reports that Oregon ground squirrels begin hibernation around September, our experience is that they begin hibernation (or at least become inactive) about mid-July in our area. In early March, often while snow is still on the ground, Oregon ground squirrels emerge from hibernation and begin to breed. The average litter size is eight, so these rodents multiply quickly.
Oregon ground squirrels communicate through a series of whistles and trills. Their alarm whistle is very distinctive and announces the presence of predators – hawks, eagles, coyotes, foxes, wild cats, badgers. . . . and man.
Oregon ground squirrels carry fleas that may harbor sylvatic plague. Humans can get sylvatic plague.
These Oregon ground squirrels were photographed near the Christie Day Use Area at Eagle Lake (Lassen County CA).