Depending on elevation and exposure, Oregon ground squirrels (Spermophilus beldingi) spend 6 to 8 months a year in hibernation. These rodents normally occur in natural meadows and grasslands, but readily adapt to pastures, alfalfa fields and the margins of grain fields. Their range includes NE California, Eastern Oregon, SW Idaho and North Central Nevada.
Oregon ground squirrels, also colloquially known as Belding ground squirrels and picket pins (for their habit of standing erect on their hind legs), dig burrow systems for shelter, nesting, hibernation and safety. Year after year the ground squirrels extend their burrows. The burrows have numerous entrances which are always left open and not plugged with soil.
During their few months of activity, Oregon ground squirrels feed primarily on the leaves, stems and seeds of grasses and store fat for their long period of hibernation.
In Big Valley CA (Modoc and Lassen Counties), where Leonard and I live at approximately 4,200 feet elevation, Oregon grounds squirrels emerge from their burrows in late February or early March and begin their hibernation by mid or late July.
On March 4th, a cold and snowy day, Leonard and I saw our first Oregon ground squirrels of 2018. About ten squirrels were racing around in the snow in a grain field along Lassen County Road 428. Bald eagles and hawks were patrolling the area so the ground squirrels were very cautious, racing from one burrow entrance to another. Since males emerge in the spring about 10 to 14 days before the females, I assume these specimens are males. I am not certain what these Oregon ground squirrels are eating since no green vegetation is visible in their home field. As soon as the females emerge the approximately 3 week breeding season will commence.
Synonyms for S. beldingi are Citellus beldingi and Urocitellus beldingi.
More information about Oregon ground squirrels may be found in my earlier post: “Oregon Ground Squirrel” on 06-25-14.