How to Identify the Top 10 Squirrels in North America


I recently took a trip to the picturesque state of Washington to visit my longtime friend Steph, who just moved there as she steps into retirement. Steph and I go way back – we met over 20 years ago in dental hygiene school. During my visit, I discovered she is also a squirrel lover, just like me! One afternoon, we found ourselves glued to her glass patio door, watching a real-life episode of “Squirrels in North America.” As we observed the antics of these furry stars, I tried to point out the differences between the Eastern Gray Squirrel and the Douglas Squirrel.

squirrels of north america

She was puzzled that I could tell them apart so easily. Realizing that many squirrel enthusiasts might face the same challenge, I decided to create this guide to help you easily identify and appreciate the unique characteristics of the various squirrel species in North America. So, let’s embark on this fun tour of Squirrels in North America!

1. Eastern Gray Squirrel 

Close-up of a eastern Gray Squirrel
Eastern Gray Squirrel

Let’s kick off our tour with the superstar of the squirrel world – the Eastern Gray Squirrel! These little guys are practically everywhere in the Eastern United States and Canada. And guess what? They’ve even made their way to some Western cities like Seattle and San Francisco and hopped across the pond to Europe and Australia. Talk about world travelers!

The Eastern Gray Squirrel is easy to spot with its gray body and white belly, often sprinkled with rusty patches. But did you know there are two other cool variations? In Ontario, you might bump into the melanistic form, which is completely black. And down in Louisiana, you could find the rare dark brown form. Squirrel spotting just got a lot more exciting!

2. Fox Squirrel 

Fox Squirrels, which are some of the largest and most fascinating tree squirrels in North America. There are two main types we’ll focus on: the Eastern Fox Squirrel and the Western Fox Squirrel.

2a. Eastern Fox Squirrel

how do squirrels stay warm in winter - fox squirrel in snow
Eastern Fox Squirrel

The Eastern Fox Squirrel is a common sight in the Eastern United States. These squirrels are generally larger than the more common gray squirrels, typically weighing between 1 to 2.5 pounds and measuring 19 to 29 inches in length, including their bushy tail, which accounts for about half of their total length. Their fur is usually a mix of gray and orange, giving them a distinctive appearance.

Compared to gray squirrels, Eastern Fox Squirrels have thicker, shorter necks and smaller, more rounded ears. They are highly adaptable and can thrive in a variety of environments, including forests, suburban areas, and even urban settings​

2b. Western Fox Squirrel

western Fox Squirrel holding a nut sitting on a purple rug
Bart – a wild Western Fox Squirrel and resident at Kitty City Squirrels

The Western Fox Squirrel inhabits the Western United States, particularly in California and Oregon. While they are similar in size to the Eastern Fox Squirrel, Western Fox Squirrels generally have a more uniform grayish-brown coat with a rusty-orange belly. Their typical size ranges from 17.7 to 27.6 inches in length, including the tail, and they weigh between 1.1 to 2.2 pounds.

These squirrels are highly adaptable and can thrive in various habitats, from woodlands to city parks. Their range overlaps with other squirrel species, but their larger size and distinctive coloring make them easy to spot​.

2c. Delmarva Fox Squirrel

squirrels of north america: delmarva fox squirrel on branch in spring in maryland
Delmarva Squirrel

But wait, there’s more! Meet the Delmarva Fox Squirrel, a special subspecies primarily found on the Delmarva Peninsula in Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. These squirrels are larger and paler than the common Eastern Gray Squirrel, lacking the typical rusty spots. In the southern states, fox squirrels may also have orange bellies or even black faces, each variety bringing its own charm to squirrel watching.

Delmarva Fox Squirrels, or DFS for short, are among the largest tree squirrels in North America. They can grow up to 30 inches in length, with about half of that being their big, fluffy tail, and weigh up to 3 pounds. Compared to gray squirrels, they have thicker, shorter necks and smaller, rounder ears​.

Squirrels of the United States

Squirrels of the United States

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Species: Sciurus carolinensis

Found in the eastern half of Canada and the United States, as far west as the Mississippi River and as far south as Florida. Gray body with white belly, often with rusty patches.

Fun fact: Black and brown variations exist in some regions.

Fox Squirrel

Species: Sciurus niger

The largest species of squirrel in North America, weighing 1-3 pounds. They are typically red, gray, brown, or occasionally black.

Fun fact: They have thicker, shorter necks and smaller, more rounded ears compared to gray squirrels.

Red-Bellied Squirrel

Species: Sciurus aureogaster

Found only on Elliot Key in Florida. Introduced from Central America.

Fun fact: It’s the only squirrel species on Elliot Key.

Abert’s Squirrel

Species: Sciurus aberti

Also known as the tassel-eared squirrel. Found in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and parts of Mexico.

Fun fact: They have distinctive tufts of fur on their ears.

Mexican Fox Squirrel

Species: Sciurus nayaritensis

Found in Southeastern Arizona and extends into Mexico. Also known as the Apache Fox Squirrel.

Fun fact: They have dark brown fur with an orange belly.

Western Gray Squirrel

Species: Sciurus griseus

Found in the mountainous regions along the western coast of the United States.

Fun fact: They resemble the Eastern Gray Squirrel but without rusty patches.

Arizona Gray Squirrel

Species: Sciurus arizonensis

Unique to its range in Arizona. The only gray tree squirrel in the region.

Fun fact: They have a distinctive rusty patch on their back and tail.

American Red Squirrel

Species: Tamiasciurus hudsonicus

Found all over Canada, Alaska, the northern United States, and into the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains.

Fun fact: They are extremely territorial and vocal, with chattering sounds that might remind you of bird calls.

Douglas Squirrel

Species: Tamiasciurus douglasii

Found in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California. Similar in size and temperament to the Red Squirrel.

Fun fact: They have a dark brown body with an orange belly.

Northern Flying Squirrel

Species: Glaucomys sabrinus

Found across Canada, Alaska, the northern United States, and in the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains.

Fun fact: They have a special membrane between their front and back legs that allows them to glide from tree to tree.

Southern Flying Squirrel

Species: Glaucomys volans

Found in the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. Slightly smaller than the Northern Flying Squirrel.

Fun fact: Their nocturnal habits make them tricky to spot, but their gliding prowess is mesmerizing.

3. Red-Bellied Squirrel 

squirrels in north america: red bellied squirrel elliott key
Red-Bellied Squirrel of Elliott Key

Now, let’s head down to the sunny Florida Keys to meet the Red-Bellied Squirrel. This species isn’t native to North America; it’s an adventurous import from Central America. You’ll only find them on Elliot Key, where they reign supreme as the island’s sole squirrel residents. If you spot a squirrel here, you’ve hit the jackpot – it’s definitely a Red-Bellied Squirrel!

4. Abert’s Squirrel (Tassel-Eared Squirrel)

squirrels in north america: abert's squirrel
Abert’s Squirrel

Ready for some Southwestern charm? Meet the Tassel-Eared Squirrel, also known as the Abert’s Squirrel or the Kaibab Squirrel, depending on the subspecies. These cuties can be identified by the adorable tufts of fur on their ears. They’re like the fashionistas of the squirrel world!

In Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and even parts of Mexico, you’ll find these tufted beauties. The Abert’s Squirrel variety lives south of the Grand Canyon, while the Kaibab Squirrel hangs out to the north. The Kaibab Squirrel even sports a chic melanistic form in the northern part of its range. Talk about style!

5. Mexican Fox Squirrel

squirrels of north america: mexican fox squirrel or apache fox squirrel

Our next stop takes us to the rugged Chiricahua Mountains in Southeastern Arizona, where we meet the Mexican Fox Squirrel and also known as the Apache Fox Squirrel. This species looks a lot like its cousin, the Eastern Fox Squirrel, but they never cross paths, making identification a breeze.

Imagine exploring the mountainous terrain and spotting one of these charming creatures with their distinctive dark brown fur and orange belly. Their range extends south into Mexico, adding an international flair to our squirrel adventure!

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6. Western Gray Squirrel 

Squirrels in North America: western gray squirrel
Western Gray Squirrel

Heading to the West Coast, we encounter the elegant Western Gray Squirrel. In some places, this species has also been known as the silver-gray squirrel, the California gray squirrel, the Oregon gray squirrel, the Columbian gray squirrel and the banner-tail. 

Found in the mountainous regions along the western coast of the United States, these squirrels are easy to recognize. They resemble the Eastern Gray Squirrel but with one key difference – no rusty patches! Their sleek gray fur and majestic bushy tails make them a sight to behold as they gracefully navigate the trees in their forested homes.

7. Arizona Gray Squirrel 

arizona gray squirrel
Arizona Gray Squirrel

Our squirrel tour wouldn’t be complete without a stop in the sunny state of Arizona to meet the Arizona Gray Squirrel. This species is unique to its range and is the only gray tree squirrel in the region. With its gray body and a distinctive rusty patch on its back and tail, the Arizona Gray Squirrel is a charming resident of the state’s woodlands.

Whether you’re hiking in the mountains or exploring the desert, keep an eye out for these delightful critters. They add a touch of whimsy to the Arizona landscape!

8. Red Squirrel 

Now, let’s head north to meet the feisty Red Squirrel. These little dynamos are found all over Canada, Alaska, the northern United States, and even into the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. True to their name, they sport a vibrant red coat.

But don’t let their size fool you – they are extremely territorial and vocal! Their chattering sounds might remind you of bird calls, but it’s just them letting you know whose turf you’re on. In the southwestern regions, you might encounter the spruce squirrel, a darker brown version of the Red Squirrel. These tiny guardians of the forest are always ready to defend their territory.

9. Douglas Squirrel 

how long do squirrels live - Douglas squirrel

Staying on the West Coast, let’s meet the Douglas’s Squirrel. These squirrels are similar in size and temperament to the Red Squirrel but have a dark brown body with an orange belly. Found in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, they add a dash of color to the forest canopy.

These squirrels are just as territorial as their red cousins, so if you hear some high-pitched chattering while hiking through the woods, you know a Douglas’s Squirrel is nearby, standing guard.

10. Flying Squirrels 

flying squirrel with nut in its mouth
Flying Squirrel

Our tour wouldn’t be complete without introducing the acrobats of the squirrel world – the Flying Squirrels! These fascinating creatures glide from tree to tree, thanks to a special membrane between their front and back legs. There are two main species we’ll focus on: the Northern Flying Squirrel and the Southern Flying Squirrel.

Both the Northern and Southern Flying Squirrels have unique adaptations that make them stand out. Their nocturnal nature means they are often only visible at night, adding an element of mystery and challenge to spotting them. In areas where their ranges overlap, like the Appalachian region and parts of Southern Canada, these aerial acrobats are a captivating part of North America’s wildlife.

10a. Northern Flying Squirrel

Found across Canada, Alaska, the northern United States, and even in the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains, the Northern Flying Squirrel is known for its creamy brown fur. These nocturnal flyers bring a touch of magic to the night forest as they glide silently through the trees.

A special treat for those lucky enough to spot them is the Humboldt’s Flying Squirrel, a suspected new species located in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California. Whether gliding silently or peering out with their big, dark eyes, these squirrels are a fascinating sight. Let us know if you catch a glimpse of one and a photo!

10b. Southern Flying Squirrel 

Our final stop brings us to the Southern Flying Squirrel, a charming counterpart to the Northern variety. Slightly smaller in size, with grayish-brown fur, these squirrels are found in the eastern United States and southeastern Canada.

Their nocturnal habits make them tricky to spot, but their gliding prowess is mesmerizing if you’re fortunate enough to catch them in action. Imagine these little daredevils leaping from tree to tree, navigating the night with grace and agility!

Squirrels in North America Wrap-Up

What a delightful journey we’ve had exploring the diverse and charming squirrels of North America! From the familiar Eastern Gray Squirrel to the acrobatic Flying Squirrels, each species brings its own unique charm and characteristics to our forests and neighborhoods. I hope this guide has helped you to appreciate and identify these wonderful creatures.

If you enjoyed this guide, let us know by leaving a comment! And don’t stop here; dive into our guide on city squirrels to discover how these clever critters have adapted to city life.

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22 Comments

  1. Really enjoyed the dive into different squirrel species, especially the flying squirries! Just wondering, do all of them have the same kind of habitat preferences, or does it vary a lot?

    1. Habitats vary widely for sure. Like, the flying squirrels prefer woodland areas cause of the trees they need to glide. Others might like different settings.

    2. Yeah, the variation’s fascinating. Urban squirrels vs. wild ones show how adaptable they are!

  2. Merideth, fantastic outline! Capturing images of the Western Gray Squirrel has always been a challenge for me because of their elusive nature. This article gives me hope to try again with better understanding.

  3. So interesting to read about the Delmarva Fox Squirrel! Had no idea it existed. Are they on the endangered species list?

  4. When you talk about the ‘Flying Squirrels’, you’re not kidding they actually fly, right? Because that’d be a sight! Just wings sprouting as they leap from tree to tree, haha.

  5. I’ve got to say, this list is pretty comprehensive. Glad to see Abert’s Squirrel getting some recognition, their ear tufts are the cutest! Might feature them on my blog next.

  6. Articles like this remind me how little I know about wildlife. Squirrels are everywhere but never realized how many types there are.

    1. True, but it’s kinda sad. Most people only know about the ones they see in cities. Wild varieties are often overlooked.

  7. Great to see articles shedding light on the rich diversity of squirrel species out there, especially lesser-known ones like the Arizona Gray Squirrel. Highlights the importance of habitat preservation.

  8. Absolutely loved the section on the Douglas Squirrel, Merideth Sweeney! Their playful nature really brings life to photography. Anyone else here tried capturing their antics?

  9. Really interesting read on the Eastern Gray Squirrel. Been wondering, how do they affect local ecosystems? I’ve read they can both harm and help.

    1. They’re known to spread tree seeds, Alex. But yeah, they can outcompete local species sometimes.

  10. The diversity among the squirrel family in North America is fascinating. From the nimble Northern Flying Squirrel to the burly Fox Squirrel, each species adapts uniquely to their habitat. It’s a testament to the incredible adaptability of squirrels. Can’t wait to share this info with my hiking group!

  11. Great article, Merideth Sweeney! The Mexican Fox Squirrel section was a treat. Sadly, not many people know about them. It’s key to educate more on such lesser-known species.

  12. i liked the bit about the flying squirrels, but how do they actually glide? Is it something in their skin or what?

  13. The segment on the Southern Flying Squirrel was engaging, but I’m skeptical about their population numbers. With deforestation and habitat loss, aren’t most of these species at risk? It feels a bit optimistic to talk about them without mentioning the environmental challenges they face.

  14. I found the discussion on the Arizona Gray Squirrel quite enlightening. It’s wonderful to see such a comprehensive coverage on wildlife. It reminds me of the importance of preserving our natural world. Merideth, keep up the good work!

  15. So, if I dress like a giant acorn, think a squirrel will try to stash me away for winter? Asking for a friend. 😂

  16. Loved the segment on the Western Gray Squirrel. Capturing these in the wild has been on my bucket list. The details here are gonna help a lot!

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