Scientific Name: Sciurus carolinensis
Classification: Small game
Species profile (PDF)
Coexisting with Squirrels (PDF)
Young squirrel (Photo: Jim Combs)
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.
Gray squirrel regulations
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.
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.
Squirrels’ adaptability can lead to unwanted interactions with people.
If a squirrel has caused damage to your property, consider the following techniques to address the situation:
Deer Hunter Observation Survey Results, 2014-2022 (PDF)
2017-2021 Gray Squirrel Hunting and Harvest Estimate Maps (PDF)
1949-2021 Squirrel Harvest and Hunter Trends (PDF)
Grey squirrel Species Profile (PDF)
Coexist with Squirrels (PDF)