Gray Squirrel

(Enlarge photo)

Scientific Name: Sciurus carolinensis

Classification: Small game

Abundance: Abundant-statewide

Species profile (PDF)

Coexisting with Squirrels (PDF)


Young squirrel (Photo: Jim Combs)

Young squirrel 

Additional Information

The eastern gray squirrel is the most common and frequently observed of North Carolina’s five tree squirrel species. The gray squirrel is found in every county and was adopted as the state mammal in 1969. Gray squirrels are enjoyed by wildlife-watchers and hunters alike, but they can be a nuisance when they cause property damage.

Gray squirrels are diurnal and active year-round. They typically have grayish-brown fur and a whitish belly with a conspicuously bushy tail; however, some individuals can range in color from yellowish-gray to silvery gray depending on the time of year. Though less common, some squirrels may be reddish, black, or white, or some combination of these colors. The gray squirrel is larger than the red squirrel of Western North Carolina and considerably smaller than the eastern fox squirrel. The gray squirrel is easily distinguished from the nocturnal Carolina northern and southern flying squirrels, which are brownish or brownish gray in coloration, have large eyes, and a loose flap of skin between the front and back legs, which allows them to glide through the air.

Gray squirrels are common in rural, suburban, and urban woodlots. Their populations are regulated by availability of suitable habitat and abundance of mast (tree nuts). In a year when acorns and other nuts are plentiful, numerous squirrels will survive the winter and females will produce larger litters. But when food is in short supply, squirrels that survive the winter often produce fewer young.

Gray squirrels inhabit numerous forest types, although they are most abundant in hardwood forests containing a variety of mast-producing trees. Hardwood trees, especially old ones, contain many cavities — either from injury to the tree or excavation by woodpeckers — that provide squirrels with a secure refuge from predators and inclement weather. Gray squirrels also use nests constructed of leaves, though they are not as secure or as well protected from the elements as tree cavities. These nests are used more frequently in warm weather, in areas where tree cavities are scarce, or at times when tree cavities become infested with fleas. Gray squirrels are very vocal animals that use a variety of calls, including harsh squalls, warning barks, chucks, mews, purrs, and tooth chattering, to communicate with other squirrels. Various postures and tail movements may also be associated with some vocalizations.

Learn more by reading the Eastern Gray Squirrel species profile.

North Carolina has five species of tree squirrels (gray, red, fox, southern flying, and northern flying squirrels). The gray squirrel is the most commonly observed mammal in North Carolina and was adopted as the state mammal in 1967. Gray squirrels are extremely adaptable and can thrive in urban areas.

What Attracts Squirrels To An Area?

Squirrels are very adaptable and thrive in urban areas where they have access to an abundance of unnatural food sources around people’s homes. Bird seed, pet food, and garbage will all attract squirrels into your yard.

What Kind Of Damage Can Squirrels Cause?

  Squirrels’ adaptability can lead to unwanted interactions with people. 

  • Presence in homes. Attics can provide safe and warm nesting locations for squirrels. Squirrels can gain entry into homes through pre-existing holes (vents or gaps between shingles) or ones they have created themselves. 
  • Chewing behavior. As rodents, squirrels are constantly chewing to wear down their continuously growing incisors. This behavior can lead to damage of wooden structures, soffit, roofs, wiring around homes, and drainage pipes.
  • Bird feeders and gardens. Squirrels may feed on vegetables, fruiting trees, dig up flower bulbs, and consume seed from bird feeders.

Preventing Conflicts With Squirrels

  • Remove access to food sources to help minimize squirrel activity in your yard. Use the following strategies to secure potential food sources.
    • Remove bird feeders. If you choose to feed birds, recognize that this will likely contribute to increased squirrel activity in your yard. Use feeders that prevent squirrels from having access. Baffles and trays can be placed on feeders to keep squirrels from getting to the seed.
    • Avoid feeding pets outside. If you must feed pets outside, do so during a period of time when you can be around to supervise the food and prevent any wildlife from having access. When the animal is done eating bring bowls inside or wash them before putting them back out.
    •  Secure garbage using ratchet straps, bungee cords, or latches.

  • Close off any entry points into the home using ½” hardware cloth or chicken wire.
  • Trim tree limbs back at least 6’ from a residence to prevent squirrels from being able to jump onto the roof. This is one of the best preventative measures you can take to prevent squirrels from accessing and nesting inside buildings/attic spaces.
  • Encircle isolated trees with a two-foot-wide collar of smooth metal 6’ above the ground to prevent squirrels from depredating fruiting trees.

What To Do If A Squirrel Has Caused Property Damage

If a squirrel has caused damage to your property, consider the following techniques to address the situation:

  • Squirrels can be taken during the established hunting season with a valid state hunting license. A landowner would not need to purchase a license to hunt on their own property. 
  • Contact a licensed Wildlife Damage Control Agent that can be hired to remove wildlife when animals are causing property damage.
  • Obtain a depredation permit from a Wildlife Enforcement Officer or District Biologist which allows individuals to trap and remove wildlife causing property damage. Squirrels can be relocated, but it must be onto private property with the permission of the landowner.

Squirrel Health Concerns

  • Licensed rehabilitators are the only individuals that may possess injured or orphaned squirrels. Always contact a rehabilitator to ensure they are able to take in the animal before attempting capture.
  • High winds will often knock squirrels’ nests out of trees, leaving young on the ground. In these situations, it is best to leave the young squirrels alone for 24 hours to see if the mother returns. The adults will often build a replacement nest and move them once it is ready.