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Interesting Facts About Red Squirrels in Michigan

Squirrels, especially red squirrels in Michigan, are among the most common animals one may encounter while exploring the great outdoors in this state. Though at a glance, easily mistaken for gray species, these lively creatures actually have unique ways of living that make them quite interesting.  

Red squirrels in Michigan

This article explores the intriguing lives of Michigan’s red squirrels and provides a fascinating look at them.

Species profile

American red squirrel
American red squirrel | image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region via Flickr

The American red squirrel is a tree-dwelling species of rodent that’s easily recognizable due to its distinctive reddish-brown fur, white underside, and white eye ring. You might notice that their bodies are significantly shorter in comparison to those of other North American tree squirrels, which range in length from about 28 to 35 centimeters. 

Their tails, which are shorter and flatter than those of other species, can have colors ranging from yellowish gray to rusty red, and they’re frequently adorned with a prominent black stripe.

These rodents are very territorial animals, and to prevent fights and chases with other squirrels, they vigorously defend their territories and mark them with their own scents.  

Habitat 

Red squirrels live in coniferous forests in the northern boreal zone full of conifer seeds and fungi and have dense, interlocking canopies. However, these agile animals can also call several kinds of forests their home, including coniferous, deciduous, and mixed forests.

A climate that’s cold throughout the year, a forest type that’s predominated by conifers, and a plentiful supply of fungal resources are ideal conditions for them to thrive. 

Diet 

The American red squirrel is a highly adaptable and versatile eater. Seeds of various conifers, such as white, black, red, and Douglas fir, make up the bulk of their diet. Food sources change with the seasons, and these animals can adapt by eating bird eggs and young snowshoe hares, as well as things like tree buds, flowers, fleshy fruits, tree sap, bark, insects, and even animal matter. 

In addition to eating at least 45 different kinds of mushrooms in some areas, these species also strip bark in the winter and early spring to gain access to nutrient-rich tissues, demonstrating an exceptionally efficient foraging strategy. These animals will also hoard and store food in order to preserve it for up to two seasons. 

Breeding 

American red squirrel eating
American red squirrel eating | image by Shanthanu Bhardwaj via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Red squirrels have distinct breeding patterns that vary depending on their geographic location. Both early spring and late summer are good times for mating, but in colder regions of their range, they only mate once a year.

Both sexes engage in promiscuous mating, having several partners at once. Males pursue and protect females from rivals by calling or chasing them. 

Grass, moss, bark, and other materials are gathered to construct nests, which are then placed in tree cavities or even underground, near the food source.

These species have one to eight young, which grow inside their mothers for 35 days. After 70 days, the young are ready to leave the nest and start looking for their new home. 

Lifespan 

Despite being small, these species have a lifespan that’s comparable to that of other squirrel species. In the wild, they live an average of five years, but only 25 percent make it past their first year; this indicates that the majority of squirrel deaths occur in juveniles. The oldest wild red squirrel ever recorded lived to be 10 years old, while the oldest ever kept as a pet lived to be 9 years old. 

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Range in Michigan 

The Red Squirrel can be found all over the state of Michigan, including in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. They’re adaptable creatures that can be discovered in various woodland habitats, from thick forests to urban parks. Their widespread distribution in the state is evidence of their adaptability as well as their preference for living in areas with an abundance of trees.

Behavior

Red squirrels in Michigan are known for having territorial behavior, especially in coniferous forests where they fiercely defend their territories, primarily against competitors. This sense of territoriality is especially obvious during the autumn, when they begin to hoard cones in preparation for the coming of more fierce competitors. Their territories range in size from 2400 square meters all the way up to 48000 square meters. 

However, in deciduous forests, their territories may overlap and they may only protect their nests and food stores. Their routines change with the seasons as well, and in the autumn you are more likely to encounter them because they’re busier foraging for the upcoming colder months.

Red squirrel vs gray tree squirrel 

Photo collage red and gray squirrel
Red (left) and Gray (right) squirrel

The red squirrel and the gray squirrel are two different types of squirrels that are often confused with each other. However, one thing you should consider when identifying them is that gray squirrels are larger than red squirrels. Gray squirrels weigh an average of 20.28 oz, while red squirrels weigh only 10.76 oz on average. 

Although their coat colors can be quite variable, gray squirrels have white fur at the tip of their tails, creating a halo appearance, whereas red squirrel tails are uniformly colored. Even though both are commonly considered tree dwellers, they have very different forest habitat preferences. The red squirrel is more likely to be seen in coniferous forests, whereas the gray squirrel is more likely to be found in deciduous forests. 

Can you hunt red squirrels in Michigan? 

In Michigan, you can hunt red squirrels year-round with a proper hunting license. Unlike other squirrel species like the fox and gray squirrels, there are no specific seasonal restrictions for hunting these species. 

Additionally, there is no bag limit, meaning hunters can take as many red squirrels as they wish. However, always ensure you have a valid Michigan hunting license before engaging in any hunting activities.

Red squirrel conservation in Michigan

In Michigan, red squirrels aren’t threatened with extinction. IUCN and the United States government both consider them to be of “Least Concern” status as of 2008. These squirrels can be found all over the state and thrive in numerous suitable habitats. 

Sources:

  • “Michigan Hunting Digest”, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division, August 1, 2022, michigan.gov
  • “Eastern gray squirrel”, M. K. Lawniczak, Animal Diversity Web, 2002, animaldiversity.org
  • “Red squirrel”, C. Rubin, Animal Diversity Web, 2012, animaldiversity.org
  • “Tamiasciurus hudsonicus”, J. Sullivan, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1995, fs.usda.gov