Folk often ask me what kinds of squirrels live in our area. I figured it was time for a post. In Columbia County we have:
- 1 chipmunk
- 1 ground squirrel
- 2 native tree squirrels (one little and one big)
- 2 introduced tree squirrels
- 1 flying squirrel
Without further ado, here they are!
There are several chipmunks in Oregon, but Townsend’s Chipmunk is the only one that frequents our moist forests west of the Cascades. They tend to be found on forest edges and are often spotted on the CZ Trail or logging roads, even sneaking into yards that border forest.
Our sole species of ground squirrel is the California Ground Squirrel, distinct with its spotted coat, narrow tail, and almost always being found on the ground. Once uncommon in the county, they have made a comeback and are now found all over in fields, clearcuts, and road embankments, where they burrow into the slopes.
The cute little tree squirrel of our forests is the Douglas’ Squirrel, distinguished from other tree squirrels by its small size, orangish belly, and relatively small tail. They prefer coniferous forest and are most often seen gnawing on the pinecones of Douglas Fir.
Our large native tree squirrel is the Western Gray Squirrel, identified by its grey coat, white belly, and huge bushy tail. They prefer mixed forest and are especially fond of oak trees, though they avoid places too close to human habitation. The loss of oak forest and encroachment of introduced squirrels has led the ODFW to designate it a “Sensitive Species” in our area, potentially on its way to eventually becoming threatened or endangered.
Eastern Gray Squirrels have been introduced to our region from the eastern U.S. and now displace the Western Gray Squirrel in populated regions of the county, especially St. Helens and Scappoose. They are slightly smaller than Western Grays with a smaller tail and brownish highlights. Because they push out native species, the Eastern Gray is considered a nuisance animal.
Also introduced from the eastern U.S. is the Fox Squirrel. It is a very large tree squirrel that comes in various shades of brown, reddish-brown, or gray, but always with a reddish belly. It is easily distinguished from the Douglas’ Squirrel due to its much larger size and bushy tail. Like the Eastern Gray Squirrel, it is now common within our towns and is considered a nuisance species.
Our most rarely seen squirrel is the Humboldt’s Flying Squirrel. They use a flat tail and extra skin between the legs to glide from tree to tree at night. Flying squirrels live in tree hollows, feed on the truffles that grow in old snags, and need lots of space to glide between trees, thus they usually require older forest. This limits them to those regions of the county with older trees, snags, and downed wood within which fungi can grow.
That’s it for squirrels. Remember, if you ever want to learn how to distinguish the different kinds of animals found in our area, just check out the Northwest Oregon Wildlife Guide.