The Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), or the Grey Squirrel, depending on region, is a tree squirrel native to the eastern and midwestern United States and to the southerly portions of the eastern provinces of Canada. The native range of the Eastern Gray Squirrel overlaps with that of the fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), with which it is sometimes confused, although the core of the fox squirrel's range is slightly more to the west.
A prolific and adaptable species, the Eastern Gray Squirrel has been introduced to, and thrives, in several regions of the western United States. It has also been introduced to Britain, where it has spread across the country and has largely displaced the native Red Squirrel, Sciurus vulgaris. In Ireland, the red squirrel has been displaced in several eastern counties, though it remains common in the south and west of the country. As the name suggests, the Eastern Gray Squirrel has predominantly gray fur, but it can have a reddish color. It has a white underside and a large bushy tail. Particularly in urban situations where the risk of predation is reduced, both white- and black-colored individuals are quite often found. The melanistic form, which is almost entirely black, is predominant in certain populations and in certain geographic areas, such as in large parts of southeastern Canada. There are also genetic variations within these, including individuals with black tails and black colored squirrels with white tails. The head and body length are from 23 to 30 cm, the tail from 19 to 25 cm and the adult weight varies between 400 and 600 grams. Female squirrels can mate only twice a year, but males can mate at any time. Often, several males will attempt to mate with the same female. They try to attract her attention by slapping the bark of trees with their paws and chattering loudly. After the mating the males play no part in the rearing of the young.
The Gray Squirrel is active every day, even in the winter. It does not hibernate and is unable to conserve enough energy to survive for long periods without food. It is most active at dawn and dusk, when it searches for whatever fruit, shoots, and seeds are in season. Small thumbs on its front paws allow it to hold securely as it feeds. The squirrel's diet varies according to season. It eats manly tree bark and fungi in the winter and buds in the summer. In September it eats nuts and acorns. A hungry gray squirrel will also raid a bird's nest for eggs, steal food from bird feeders and dig up plants. The squirrel buries extra food just below the soils surface, which it later locates by smell.
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