Fox Squirrel


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Delmarva fox squirrels are about twice the size of grey squirrels
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The Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel, one of 10 recognized subspecies of fox squirrels, is endangered but its population is expanding with the help of recovery efforts. Like all "fox" squirrels, the Delmarva has a full, fluffy tail. The Delmarva fox squirrel is frosty silver to slate gray with a white belly and can grow to be 30 inches long, including up to 15 inches of tail.

Unlike the chattering, scampering gray squirrel, the fox squirrel is quiet and shy, and difficult to spot. Although it is the largest variety of tree squirrel, it runs away from confrontations rather than staying to fight. Not as agile in trees as gray squirrels, Delmarva squirrels usually run along the ground from one tree to another rather than leaping between trees.

The Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel lives in mature woodlots of mixed pine and hardwoods along streams and marshland or near agricultural fields. Loblolly pines, oak, maple, hickory and beech provide nuts and seeds for food and tree cavities for nesting. Although Delmarva squirrels occasionally build nests of leaves during the summer months, they prefer to nest in tree cavities, especially in the winter.

Delmarva fox squirrels forage for food on the ground.
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In addition to eating (and thereby distributing) nuts and seeds, the fox squirrel also feeds on tree buds, flowers, fungi, insects and fruit during the spring and pinecones in the summer and early fall. In September and October the squirrels are busy hiding acorns and nuts for the winter. They sometimes stash a collection of nuts in a tree cavity but most often they bury each nut separately.

The fox squirrel mates in late winter, with the female giving birth to a litter of one to four about 44 days later, in February or March, and caring for the young by herself until they are weaned. The mother squirrel will fight to protect her nestlings, but some nevertheless fall victim to raccoons, opossums and rat snakes.

Once ranging throughout the peninsula of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and in southern Pennsylvania, the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel is now endangered and only occurs naturally in parts of Maryland. By the early 1900s, the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel population had dwindled, mostly as a result of habitat loss from agricultural and residential development but also due to encounters with vehicles, hunters, and predators such as foxes, weasels, and raptors. The Delmarva fox squirrel prefers woodland with a mixture of trees, a closed canopy, an open understory without extensive brush, and an extensive forest edge boundary. Logging and development have decreased and fragmented this mixed woodland habitat, forcing the fox squirrel to compete with the gray squirrel for resources.

Delmarva fox squirrels hide nuts for the winter.
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After the squirrel was listed as endangered in 1967, the Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel Recovery Team launched a reintroduction program and began coordinating state and federal efforts to restore and protect the species. These efforts have helped the squirrel population to grow, with introduced populations now throughout the Eastern Shore of Maryland and parts of Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Between 1969 and 1971, thirty Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrels were relocated to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia and released in the habitat surrounding the historic Assateague Lighthouse. Now there are over 300 fox squirrels spread throughout Chincoteague NWR. Restored and protected forest habitat at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland also harbors a significant population of the Delmarva fox squirrel.

Much of the squirrel's habitat is privately owned land, so landowners and homeowners play a crucial part in the conservation of the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel. Farmers can leave uncut corn or soybeans along hedgerows to provide winter food for the squirrel; land developers can leave intact corridors of trees that produce nuts, seeds or berries and serve as passageways between otherwise isolated woodland habitat.

The Delmarva fox squirrel has thick, heavy fur.
Photo ©

These buffers of trees and hedgerows between streams and development keep the squirrels away from roads, and nest boxes placed in the forest allow the squirrels to raise their young away from harm. Scientists have also implemented a Geographic Information System to allow them to identify suitable habitat over a large area and monitor land use near Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel habitat with the ultimate goal of recovering the species to a population level that no longer requires protection.

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