The Squirrels of Oregon

By Cindy Quarters

David De Lossy/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Squirrels make homes throughout the state of Oregon. Some live in large groups; others, most notably the tree squirrels, are highly territorial and live alone much of the time. Each of these defends an area as large as 5 acres, running all other squirrels out of their spaces. When not chasing off enemies, squirrels spend their waking time gathering and storing nuts, seeds and berries in hundreds of locations around their territories. At least a dozen kinds of squirrels are native to Oregon.

Tree Squirrels

Oregon is home to four different kinds of tree squirrels. The Douglas squirrel prefers to live in forests composed of many different kinds of conifers. As these forests disappear and are replaced by single-species woodlands, the number of Douglas squirrels has decreased. One of the better-known residents in the western and central areas of the state is the western gray squirrel, the largest of Oregon’s native squirrels. The American red squirrel lives throughout the northeastern part of the state. Less often seen is the northern flying squirrel, a nocturnal animal that lives almost exclusively in heavily forested areas.

Ground Squirrels

Eight different kinds of ground squirrels live in various parts of Oregon, typically in open areas with at least some brushy cover. These are Merriam's ground squirrel, the California ground squirrel, Belding's ground squirrel, the Washington ground squirrel, the golden-mantled ground squirrel, the Columbian ground squirrel, the Piute ground squirrel and the Wyoming ground squirrel. Together their ranges cover the entire state. They tend to gravitate to meadows rather than forests. Unlike the territorial tree squirrels, ground squirrels often live in large colonies.

Antelope Squirrel

In a class by itself, the white-tailed antelope squirrel lives in the dry, desert area in the southeast corner of Oregon. The antelope squirrel prefers open, rocky areas with plenty of brush. This squirrel’s range extends into several neighboring states including Nevada, Wyoming, California and Idaho. The squirrel's small size and white stripes have led to the creature's being called the antelope chipmunk. To stay warm during cold winters, individuals huddle together in burrows under the snow. They do not hibernate.

Non-Natives

Some of the most common squirrels found in Oregon today are actually East Coast transplants. The reddish-brown fox squirrel and the smaller brown and gray eastern squirrel have settled in throughout the state. These tree dwellers have crowded out the Oregon natives, especially in cities such as Portland and Salem as well as many outlying suburban areas. Fox squirrels are particularly prolific and have litters of babies throughout the year, often raising their young in late fall or very early spring despite Oregon's cold and wet weather.

Photo Credits

  • David De Lossy/Digital Vision/Getty Images