THE WESTERN GRAY SQUIRREL
The western gray squirrel is a large tree squirrel native to California, with a preference for oak and pine forests. Although once fairly abundant throughout the west coast, loss of habitat and competition from other species has steadily reduced their populations since the 1920s.
Western gray squirrels can be identified by their bushy tails, silvery gray backs and white fronts. White tips on the gray hairs provide the silvery appearance. Gray squirrels are most active in the early morning, retreating to their nests during warmer times of the day. Their nests, called dreys, are typically located in the top third of larger trees and built using twigs, moss and bark shavings.
Wary of humans, western grey squirrels tend to move from tree to tree. Nonetheless, they still prefer to forage on the ground. Favorite foods include pine nuts, acorns, nuts, berries, green vegetation and even insects. Although non-territorial, gray squirrels do show dominance hierarchy at food locations.In preparation for winter, the western gray squirrel will spend more time gathering and storing food. Although they do not hibernate, western gray squirrels do put on weight and thicken their fur in anticipation of the cold.
Breeding occurs between December and July, with females potentially having two litters per year. Litter sizes range from two to five young, with babies remaining in the nest for six months or more.
Although the introduction of fox squirrels in the 20th century has largely driven the western gray squirrels into the mountains and foothills, a little persistence should make this true California native easy to find.