Grey Squirrels are around 18 inches long nose to tail. During the winter months the grey squirrel can be identified by its salt and pepper body, tan specks in its tail and its white belly. Its body color changes to a yellowish brown during summer months. The grey squirrel has small ears and a large busy tail. Those found in Ontario and Quebec have a more dominate black color in their fur while those in the United States have grey as the more dominate color. Albino squirrels have been found on occasion, but are very rare. Grey squirrels use their tail for balance when climbing trees, as a blanket during winter months, and also as a communication tool by flicking it back and forth to alert danger and to give its position to other squirrels. The grey squirrel gets it name from the Greek words skia, meaning shadow, and oura, meaning tail, because when it sits upright the tail curves up behind them and shades them from the sun.
The Grey Squirrel and Red Squirrel are considered tree squirrels; ground squirrels include Arctic Ground Squirrel, Thirteen Lined Ground Squirrel and several others in the ground squirrel group, Order of Rodents (Rodentia.)
Although the grey squirrel spends most of its life climbing and descending trees, it gathers most of its food from the ground during the evening hours. Found in woodlands and urban areas, the grey squirrel slides sideways around tree trunks to keep out of sight of its predators and also remains perfectly still at times to make itself more difficult to see. Most active at dawn and dusk, the grey squirrel gathers different kinds of food during each season. During the early spring it gathers maple tree buds, in the summer it collects berries, wild fruits, seeds, nuts and apples and during the fall it eats nuts, acorns, hickory nuts, butternuts, walnuts, beechnuts and pine seeds. They also eat insects, caterpillars and bird eggs. The Grey squirrel finds its food by using its sense of smell.
Adult grey squirrels breed twice a year usually January to February and June to July. Females sit at the top of trees and make a “duck-like” call to get the males attention. Male adults then gather below the female who ensues a chase from tree to tree. Once she stops running, she mates with the male leading the pack. After mating, the male has no role in helping with the young. Female grey squirrels have one to six babies per litter. At birth the babies are called “pinkies” because they are born blind and without fur. They gain their hair at around three weeks old and are then called kits, kittens or pups. Once a kit is twelve weeks old, it leaves the nest. The nest of the grey squirrel is made in the cavities of trees sometimes in used woodpecker holes. If there are no cavities available, the grey squirrel will build its nest between tree branches. The outside of the nest is made of twigs and leaves, while the inside is made of moss, grasses and bark. During the winter months, the adult male and female grey squirrel share a winter den, however in the summer they each find their own separate den. The males den is usually larger than the females.
The enemies of the grey squirrel are weasels, red foxes, bobcats, wolves, raccoons, snakes, hawks and owls. The grey squirrel carries ticks, lice, fleas, tape and round worms and scabies that takes off their fur leaving them vulnerable to colds and infections.
The grey squirrel can become a nuisance if found in attics. They also dig up bulbs in gardens, drive birds away from feeders and cause damage to crops. They destruct woodlands by stripping the bark from tree trunks and branches leaving the trees vulnerable to disease and starving for nutrients.
Introduced in Great Britain and parts of Europe in the early 1800s, the grey squirrel has been pushing the red squirrel out of its habitat by competing for resources. Grey squirrels are larger and stronger, can put on more fat to survive the cold winters and thus hoards more food. They also are more adaptable to their environment and have been known to carry the Parapox Virus which red squirrels are not immune to. Because of these factors, the red squirrel is now listed on the endangered species list in Europe.