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Ground Squirrels

Summary: Ground squirrels differ from tree squirrels because they make their homes in burrows below ground surfaces while tree squirrels live in nests in tree canopies. North America has many species of ground squirrels.

Everybody knows about squirrels because we see them running through our trees and doing their tight wire act as they race across overhead telephone wires. But, there exists a whole other variety of squirrels that are quite the opposite of our tree dwelling squirrels called ground squirrels.

The ground squirrel lives in locations as varied as its species. Some live on prairies while others live on golf courses. Some choose tree covered hills or meadows and others rocky canyons and hillsides. The category includes squirrels of all shapes and sizes, too. They are often confused for chipmunks, ground hogs or gophers. But, they all have one thing in common. While our common urban squirrels head for the trees, ground squirrels burrow. Hence, the name ground squirrels.

The California ground squirrel, often referred to as the Beechey squirrel, is found in northern California and north to central Washington State. It feasts mainly on plants, berries and small insects and animals. Its burrows can be up to thirty-five feet in length.

The Rock ground squirrel is similar in size to the Beechey squirrel, but differs in looks with a long bushy trail and large ears. This squirrel is found in rocky locations in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, parts of Nevada, Colorado and Utah. They are adept at climbing and live along rock walls of canyons and hillsides. They survive their dry climates by obtaining moisture from the foods they eat such as grasses, pine nuts, cactus and various fruits.

The Arctic ground squirrel is the largest ground squirrel in North America. Found in Alaska, Northern British Columbia and the Northwest Territories of Canada, the Arctic ground squirrel grows up to fourteen inches in length. To survive the harsh winters of their environment they must double their weight during the warm months in order to hibernate from September to April. They consume grasses, flowers, berries and mushrooms. Their burrows contain hundreds of females and only a couple of males. The tunnels that connect the burrows are only a few feet underground making the Arctic squirrel accessible to hungry wolves, bears and eagles.

The Columbian ground squirrel is another inhabitant of the northwestern most states and territories. They can be found in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia and parts of Alberta Canada. They favor open grasslands and meadows eating parts of plants, seeds, small birds and insects. Living in large colonies, they often do damages to nearby crops. Their sleep seven to eight months out of the year in a chamber dug away from the main tunnels.

The small Belding's squirrel is found in pastures of California, Nevada, Oregon and Idaho. They will hibernate for seven to eight months and are known to mate only one day per year with several males. Only about fifty percent of the annual litter survives the hibernation period and males are known to kill unattended babies. If all the babies are killed the mother will migrate to another population and take over by killing the litter of another female.

The Franklin ground squirrel is the largest of the ground squirrel order growing to about sixteen inches in length. They are very territorial and spend most of their lives underground. They are found mostly in eastern Kansas living in tall grasses and forests. They eat green vegetation, grasses, seeds and insects. Their colonies can contain from fifty to a hundred squirrels. They are readily hunted by foxes, coyotes, snakes and hawks.

The Thirteen-Lined ground squirrel is often mistaken as a chipmunk. It is found on prairies and open areas like golf courses feeding on insects, plants, various seeds and sometimes on small animals. It is active mostly during daylight hours.

There are more like the Golden Manted, Uinta, Antelope and spotted. In fact, I've got more ground squirrels than you have patience to read about them and that is why this article ends here. Ground squirrels all, and nary a one that lives in a tree or eats holes in your siding or roof. 

Interested in trapping squirrels? Click here to watch my short video on how to do it.

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