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Douglas Squirrel

Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii)

Squirrels are among the most familiar wild mammals that we encounter, both in our backyards and out in the wilderness. Unlike many mammals, squirrels are diurnal and their energetic antics make them highly conspicuous.

The Pacific Northwest is home to numerous ground squirrels and tree squirrels, including a couple non-native species.

The Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii)– also called a Chickaree– is the species you are most likely to see in the forests of western Washington and Oregon. These bold little animals are very vocal and will often bark, growl, or whistle at (i.e. ‘scold’) those they perceive as intruders, including well-intentioned hikers and naturalists.

Description

Douglas Squirrels are 11-14 in length (28-36 cm). They have brown fur on their backs and orange or orange-white fur on their bellies. A black line may run along the squirrel’s sides, dividing the dorsal and ventral fur.

The ears are tipped with black tufts and their is a ring of light-colored fur around the eye.

The non-native Eastern Fox Squirrel looks a little like a Douglas Squirrel. If you live in an urban area, you are more likely to see the larger Fox Squirrel.

Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii)

Habitat and Range

Douglas Squirrels live in coniferous forests from British Columbia south to the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. You can see a range map here.

Old tree cavities excavated by woodpeckers are used as nests by Douglas Squirrels in the winter (they do not hibernate). The squirrels make dreys out of abandoned crow nests and use these in the warmer months.

Diet

The primary food source for this squirrel is nuts from conifer cones, including those from fir, pine, spruce, and hemlock. Piles of Douglas Fir cone scales at the base of a tree are evidence of Douglas Squirrel feeding.

Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) eating a cone

Green cones are clipped from trees by Douglas Squirrels in the autumn. The squirrels then stash the cones in caches called middens. Hollow spaces under logs or rocks are common places for middens. A midden serves as a sort of pantry in winter, when food is otherwise scarce for squirrels. Hundreds of cones might be piled in a midden and these may accessed for several years.

Douglas Squirrels also east mushrooms, berries, and seeds.

Predators

Owls, Northern Goshawks, American Martens, Bobcats, foxes, Coyotes, and domestic cats all eat Douglas Squirrels.

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28 comments… add one

  • Kelly Brenner May 10, 2012, 10:22 AM

    We used to feed them all the time when I was growing up camping in the Columbia Gorge! They are fascinating to watch, we had a couple which would eat out of our hands, taking nuts away to hide and coming back for more. We always knew when the Douglas Fir cones would start to ripen because suddenly one day we’d start hearing the ‘thunk thunk thunk’ of the chewed up cones hitting the top of our camping trailer. These squirrels bring back some fond memories, thanks for the post!

    • Ivan Phillipsen June 6, 2012, 10:47 AM

      Sounds like you have some intimate experience with these squirrels, Kelly. Very cool. I’m always torn about the ethics of feeding squirrels and chipmunks, but I admit it would be fun to have a Douglas squirrel eating from my hand. Thanks for the comment!

  • Michael Kauffmann May 20, 2012, 5:50 AM

    Well written and photographed – definitely one of my favorite forest residents.

  • mia carter September 8, 2012, 4:06 PM

    I have a Douglas Squirrel as a pet. When he was approximately 2 weeks old, I had found him laying in a cement parking lot at work barely breathing and not awake. Knowing he was nowhere near trees it a possible nest, I picked him up, which he never moved at all, and went to my car to get a bottle of water. I dipped my finger in the water and put the drip on his lips, then proceeded to put him in my bra to get back up to body temp. After work I went and bought a bottle and formula and hand fed him for 2 months. He is completely humanized and relies on me for everything and I have to say, he is what puts a smile on my face daily. A total kick in the pants. He is spoiled and has full run of the house and other animals. I am glad I was able to save him, he has become a shining star for me.<3

    • chris October 7, 2012, 8:15 PM

      coolest story. you are so thoughtful and so lucky to have such a special little buddy. i happened to walk into a mother DS carrying her baby acrossed the golf course. when she saw me she dropped her baby and ran up a tree and started going nuts barking at me. i saw what it was and moved back and she came down and carried the baby away. I always wondered why she was moving her baby. ive since started building the tree houses for them and they seem to use them in the winter when the snow gets deep. the babies, for a while during and after they are weaned, all pack in there at once…its pretty funny.

  • chris October 7, 2012, 12:30 PM

    I work on a golf course in the sierra nevada mountains in california. I am currently building a few dozen squirrel homes for all my little douglas squirrel friends for the upcoming winter. One observation i have made is that, in the deep woods they rarely come into contact with one another. They seem to own an acre or two of land which they stay on and protect. Here on the golf course, and in the nearby village, they are always crossing lines onto other squirrels “property”, which leads me to believe that there isnt enough for all of them since all you see them do is chasing one another around here in town and on the course. Lots of young ones this year, and i figure they will need the extra room. Plus they keep the red tailed hawks active on the golf course which helps with all the other, more destructive rodents like voles and waterfowl, which the hawks consume.

  • Chris Everett January 5, 2013, 2:48 PM

    I live in Alta, CA. We are fortunate to have California Grays and Douglas Squirrels at our bird feeders every day, practically all day. The Douglas Squirrels scatter all over our decks and property; the Grays mostly stay up in the pine trees. It’s like having my own private animal kingdom. I love it. We moved to the mountain area specifically to live amongst the wild, rather than a close-knit neighborhood. I couldn’t live in a better environment than this. Btw, you have a pretty cool site.

  • El Miller February 6, 2013, 4:23 PM

    There are always Douglas squirrels around my place driving the Jack Russells crazy. I have over an acre of large Douglas fir, and over 1/2 is fenced off so the JR’s can’t get in. There seem to be underground tunnels in that part of the yard.
    Do you think the squirrels made them? Live in them in our rainy winters? Use them for storage?

    • Ivan Phillipsen February 10, 2013, 8:10 PM

      Good question, El. Douglas Squirrels are definitely in the ‘tree squirrel’ category, and spend most of their time among the branches on running along and around fallen trees. As far as I know, they don’t spend much energy digging holes. They do cache cones in hollows under logs.

  • Linda August 11, 2013, 3:57 PM

    We have lived in the coastal range of Oregon for almost 20 years, and today a saw a squirrel that was a very very light grey with an all white ring around his neck and his tail was all white. By the time I found the camera he was gone. I’ve never seen a squirrel that light of color ever, and never seen one with a white ring around their neck. Was wondering what kind of squirrel this was ! !

    • Ivan Phillipsen August 18, 2013, 7:21 PM

      Interesting, Linda. The squirrel you described doesn’t sound like any of the squirrel species we have in our region. Maybe that individual had something weird going on, genetically, such that it’s coat color was not typical for the species. That’s my best guess. Thanks for the question!

  • Eric Johnson December 24, 2013, 10:31 AM

    I live in Bellingham, WA across from a greenbelt. i have watched grey squirrels be the sole population for the past 20 years. Over the past year, I have seen increasing numbers of black squirrels and now rarely see a grey one. I have seen black ones chasing grey ones. Are the black squirrels aggressive towards the grey and taking over?

    Thanks

    • Ivan Phillipsen January 7, 2014, 4:05 PM

      Hi Eric,

      Thanks for the question. It sounds like you’ve got a population of Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) there. That species was introduced to the PNW. There are two color forms: gray and black. They are the same species. It could be that natural genetic processes have resulted in the black form becoming more common over the decades you have been observing the population. Or maybe some black squirrels showed up from somewhere else. I don’t think there should be any differences in behavior between the two color forms, since, again, they are the same species. Interesting observation you’ve made!

  • Sally Svenpladsen February 4, 2014, 10:16 AM

    Hi Ivan,

    I enjoyed reading your article on the Douglas Squirrel. I have lived in Dora, OR above the East Fork of the Coquille River for 13 yrs. on 5 acres with Douglas Firs, Myrtlewood, Alder and Cottonwood trees. I finally have a little guy visiting my bird feeders daily. It is the cutest little creature but I have noticed that it chases the chipmunks (another one of my favorites) away from the feeders and the brush pile I have made for the birds. Will it eventually scare the chipmunks away from the yard or will they get along without any problems? He likes to sit on the railing and has given me a great opportunity to observe and take pictures of him.

    • Ivan Phillipsen February 4, 2014, 1:45 PM

      Hi Sally,

      It sounds like you have some great wildlife action in your yard! Squirrels and chipmunks can be territorial about food and there isn’t any way to know if your particular gang will ever learn to get along. Perhaps you try feeding the squirrel from a separate feeder that is high off the ground and less accessible to the chipmunks.

      Good luck and have fun watching your backyard critters!

  • Jerry Davis March 5, 2014, 11:40 AM

    I have Gray Squirrels, a Black Squirrel and a little Douglas Squirrel here in Northwest WA. I also have several kinds of birds such as Crows, Blue jays, and many winter birds. I purchased a bird feeder and they all tried to eat out it and wound up making a huge mess. I solved the problem by using my old stainless dog pans when I had German Shepherds. Now they all eat thier own feed and don’t make a mess. I put the pans out every morning on my deck under the big deck table to stay dry. I also put out suet blocks which they love to eat.The little Douglas Squirrel chases all the other Squirrels away from the food until he is done eating. They all chase each other and my little Pincher Dogs watch the show through the glass doors going out on the deck. Its very interesting to watch them all.

  • Sally Svenpladsen March 7, 2014, 10:16 AM

    Hi Ivan,

    A little update on my Douglas Squirrel. Turns out the chipmunks and the Douglas Squirrel, whom I have named Sassy Pants, have worked out their home ground situation. I am now feeding her on an old stump next to our dining room that she has claimed as her own. My little dog, Chewy, started to chase her and stick his head into the holes at the base of the stump so I put up some fencing around the stump so she is safe and happy. I’ve been waiting to see if she will have a mate soon.

  • Doug Peterson March 7, 2014, 12:23 PM

    Hi Ivan,
    Enjoyed the article and all the great comments. I live in Port Townsend on a large city lot wooded with mostly fir trees. We’ve had three Eastern Gray Squirrels in residence for sometime and lately we’ve had a Douglas Squirrel join our community with seemingly no dissension with the Grays. As he moved in during winter, I felt it might have been an involuntary relocation, so I’ve been putting out sunflower seeds, peanuts and pecans every morning for the Douglas and am quite fond of him/her. Now it’s disappeared for four days and I naturally assume the worst. Due to the mild winter, could it be have newborns already? Maybe mating? Why do you think the sudden arrival in January? Thanks again,
    Doug

    • Ivan Phillipsen March 18, 2014, 7:52 AM

      Hi Doug,

      Well, it would be hard to know why your Douglas Squirrel showed up and why is went missing. Has it returned? I think your hypotheses of mating or rearing young are reasonable. Wish I could offer more ideas.

      In any case, that’s cool that you’ve had a native squirrel in your yard and that the non-natives didn’t harass it.

      • Doug Peterson March 18, 2014, 11:20 AM

        Hi Ivan,
        Thanks for checking in.

        He actually showed up this morning! He was snuffling around in his usual morning rooting area where there are lots of sunflower seeds from the bird feeder above. I came out and put some seeds and a couple of nuts on what I think of as his table rock, he skittered up a tree and clucked at me before hurrying off through the canopy, leaving me with the feeling he or she was just saying hello before perhaps heading back to a litter. It seems all of my squirrels are on a bit of hiatus for mating and rearing season, so I expect them all to return shortly.

        • Ivan Phillipsen March 19, 2014, 1:44 PM

          Well, that’s great, Doug! The world needs more Douglas Squirrels!

  • Doug Peterson March 19, 2014, 2:14 PM

    I agree Ivan. We love the Grays too, one of them will even come in the house if enticed with a pecan, but the Douglas Squirrels are not only native, they almost defy the laws of physics and gravity as they practically fly from tree to tree. Plus they hit every branch of the cuteness tree on the way down, and they’ve got personality plus!

  • Rafile March 19, 2014, 6:38 PM

    Red Eastern Fox Squirrels are evil… In one day they stole all my persimmons, and left a half eaten one covered in ants on my porch. I had to right a report on squirrels, and ended up writing “The furry jerk”. teach loved it. any way whats your personal opinion on them.

  • amy A. March 27, 2014, 9:15 AM

    I have turned my front yard into a squirrel and bird feeding station. I just saw a bright red/blonde squirrel yesterday for the first time. I have Greg eastern squirrels, mixed colors dark Douglas varieties. The are a blast to watch. The crows, scrub jays and a host of other new bird visitations have joined the feeding party. They share the nuts and corn bricks I put out. I have added suet bricks up higher for other birds to feed on.
    My city squirrels are very funny to watch as they are truly entertaining watching them eat together. I did hand fed one many years ago, but have decided not to get that close to any one animal, as I prefer to keep them as wild as possible. The latest big red squirrel is so pretty I will have to get photos. The little grey one eats the most often, the others come twice a day to feed. My big corn brick lasts for weeks, but they really like the peanuts instead.

  • Sara McIntyre March 30, 2014, 1:28 PM

    I have a Doug fir squirrel out back in my yard. It is very territorial even to the deer. I believe it is a male and he has brought home a female. The male has been here all winter. Just recently the other showed up. I saw them together once early in the morning. They looked like they were playing. Much to my surprise they began, shall we say wrestling. It was quite the morning starter for me. Ha ha. So now she comes and eats first. She has no worries about the other birds and deer. Then he comes in and the place goes crazy. Everyone gets chased off so he can chatter and check all his goodie stashes. Then he stashes more food . Babies would be interesting and fun. I am just guessing on who is what as they both look the same just one is more tolerable to birds. My cats and dog love to watch them all while probably dreaming of catching one.

  • Cathy April 24, 2014, 5:14 PM

    We have lived in a five acre mixed forest with two ponds for 35+ years. We are grateful for an abundance of wildlife including a variety of squirrels. I’m not sure I would be identifying the various species correctly so I will just say we appear to have at least three types including the large greys with white stomachs and gloriously long and fluffy tails, the shorter more compact brownish-grey squirrels and the similarly shaped squirrels with reddish/amber highlight markings. Today for the first time I saw a full-grown blonde (not albino) squirrel. Any ideas how common this is in Willamette Valley? Thank you

  • Loretta June 30, 2014, 9:34 PM

    We live next to a greenbelt in lightly forested part of town (Corvallis, Oregon) and started noticing a population of Douglas squirrels in our back yard…sometimes 2, 3 4. Nowhere I’ve read does anyone say how unafraid they are of people. We do not feed them and try to ‘shoo’ them away so our cat doesn’t kill them. Lost a little fella 3 weeks ago. This evening I walked right up to a female on our oak tree – she had visible teats but dont’ know if she has given birth yet. She is usually alone but don’t know if her mate was killed. Do pairs stay together? What can we do to scare them away? Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share my backyard story.

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