The eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) is a familiar species in Illinois. You may have some fox squirrels in your yard or in a neighborhood park. They are common in cities as well as in the country.
What Does It Look Like?
It has rust‐yellow body fur with light orange-yellow fur on the belly. The tail is very long and bushy.
How Big is It?
The fox squirrel’s head‐body length is 10 to 15 inches. The tail is about 7 ¾ to 11 ¾ inches long. A fox squirrel weighs between one and two and one-half pounds. It is the largest of the three types of tree squirrels in Illinois.
Does It Make any Sounds?
The fox squirrel makes a series of sounds, but the “bark” is the most commonly used. It is similar to the sound made when you hit a quarter on its flat side with the thin edge of another quarter.
Where Does it Live?
The fox squirrel is a permanent resident statewide in Illinois. This mammal lives in forest edges, woodlots, woods without much understory, fencerows and oak tree clusters. The fox squirrel is also an inhabitant of cities. It is not commonly found in areas with eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), another common tree squirrel species in Illinois.
What is the Nesting Season Like?
There are two mating seasons, one in early winter and one in late spring. Females two years old and older may produce two litters per year. Females about one year old usually breed once in a year. Two to four young are born after a gestation period of about six weeks. Young nurse for about two months.
What Does it Eat?
Fox squirrels eat fruits, tree buds, hickory nuts, acorns, walnuts, corn, flowers, leaves, fungi and insects. They may eat bird eggs, if they are available. The type of food eaten depends on the season and availability. In fall, they eat mainly nuts and acorns. Their winter diet consists of food they stored in the fall as well as grains, fungi, buds and bark. They visit bird feeders, too.
Does Anything Eat It?
Fox squirrels are eaten by hawks, coyotes (Canis latrans), owls, bobcats (Lynx rufus), foxes, snakes, feral cats (Felis catus) and humans.
What Else Should I Know About It?
• Fox squirrels will store foods, like nuts and acorns, in the fall if there are enough available to do so.
• This mammal is active early in the morning and late in the evening, in trees and on the ground. It spends more time on the ground than in trees, though.
• The fox squirrel may build a leaf nest or use a tree cavity or manmade nest box for shelter and raising young. Leaf nests are made of leaves and sticks and lined with shredded leaves and bark.
• This squirrel is known to swim.
• It does not hibernate but may sleep for several consecutive days in winter.