Eastern fox squirrel
Sciurus niger
ITIS Species Code:   180172         NatureServ Element Code:   AMAFB07040
NatureServe Global Rank: 
NatureServe State (NC) Rank: 
Federal Status: 
NC State Status: 
Land Unit

US Fish & Wildlife Service
US Forest Service
US National Park Service
US Department of Defense
NC State Parks
NC University System
NC Wildlife Res. Com.
NC Forest Service
NC Div. of Coastal Mgmt.
Local Governments
Non-Governmental Org.
Other Public Lands
Private Lands

GAP Status 1-2
All Protected Lands




% of Dist. on
Prot. Lands

0.3 %
0.7 %
64.5 %
1.8 %
1.8 %
0.1 %
25.8 %
3.0 %
0.0 %
1.7 %
1.7 %
0.0 %
0.0 %

6.8 %
% of Dist. on
All Lands

< 0.1 %
0.1 %
12.9 %
0.4 %
0.4 %
< 0.1 %
5.3 %
0.6 %
0.0 %
< 0.1 %
0.3 %
< 0.1 %
79.9 %

1.4 %
Within the state, the squirrel's range is disjunct, with populations in the sandhills and coastal plain separated from populations in the southwestern mountains. Fox squirrels are locally common in the sandhills and coastal plain, but, are uncommon to rare in the mountains (Lee et al. 1982, Webster et al. 1985).

Found predominantly in open forest habitats of oak and pine where older, cavity-filled trees are located (Whitaker and Hamilton 1998). In northern portions of its range (southern Appalachians and points north), oak-hickory groves are preferred. In the southern portions of its range (lower Piedmont and Coastal Plain), long-leaf or loblolly pine and oak woods, pine flatwoods and open borders of cypress swamps and low thickets are preferred (Webster et al. 1985, Brown 1997, Whitaker and Hamilton 1998). Broken forest, scattered woods in farmland and other half-wooded situations with nut or cone bearing trees are also used to a great extent. Less abundant in forests with predominantly closed canopies where gray squirrels dominate (Webster et al. 1985). This squirrel does well in city parks, golf course settings and suburban areas.


Often in open mixed hardwood forest or mixed pine-hardwood associations, but has adapted well to disturbed areas, hedgerows, and city parks. In Michigan, four favorite habitats in descending order: oak-hickory forests, beech-basswood-maple, scrub oak, and floodplains (Allen 1943). In the southeastern U.S., prinicipal habitat is mature open forests of longleaf pine and turkey oak with an open understory; adjacent bottomland hardwood forests may be occupied in summer and during periods of drought (see Handley 1991). Western range extensions are associated with riparian corridors of cottonwoods and fencerows of osage orange. Dens are in tree hollows (preferred) or leaf nests (especially in mild weather). Young are born in a tree cavity or leaf nest; tree hollows are preferred for rearing young. Individuals use up to about nine nests annually.

A few particular plant communities of the Coastal Plain appear to be important in maintaining fox squirrel populations there. The structure, age, diversity, and extent of these communities within the overall pine-oak forest provide an array of often subtle requirements for the success of the squirrel in the Southeast (Weigl et al. 1989).

In Florida and North Carolina, habitats are primarily longleaf pine (PINUS PALUSTRIS)-turkey oak (QUERCUS LAEVIS) sandhills characterized by large, well-spaced pines and an understory of scattered or clumped oaks (Moore 1953, Kantola 1986, Weigl et al. 1989, Cox 1990), although squirrels may also be found in other open pine stands, mixed pine-hardwood forests, and in ecotones between forest types. Habitat structure, specifically the size and spacing of pine and oak trees, appears to be more important than the actual species composition of the habitat (Taylor 1973, Hilliard 1979, Weigl et al. 1989). Only stands with large mature trees appear to supply adequate supplies of food and nesting sites. The large size of the eastern fox squirrel appears to adapt it to the openness of the pine-oak forest and the arrangements of habitats within the Coastal Plain. Large size is advantageous in handling the large cones of longleaf pine and in traveling along the ground between widely spaced trees, food sources, and blocks of habitat (Weigl et al. 1989).

Use of edge habitats by fox squirrels is repeatedly mentioned in the literature (Smith and Follmer 1972, Flyger and Smith 1980, Nixon et al. 1984, Kantola 1986, Weigl et al. 1989, Cox 1990). While fox squirrels in North Carolina Sandhills used pine-oak forest at least 80 percent of the time, there was marked seasonality in habitat use. During the winter months, fox squirrel activity was significantly higher in edge habitats and in bottomland forest, while in the summer months activity shifted from open pinelands and sand ridges toward moister lowlands (Weigl et al. 1989). Based on a one-year study of Florida fox squirrels, Kantola and Humphrey (1990) suggested that the best habitats may be the edges between longleaf pine savanna and live oak (QUERCUS VIRGINIANA) forest where the availability of oak mast may be most dependable from year to year.

Weigl et al. (1989) showed that fox squirrels chose nest sites surrounded by vegetation typical of longleaf pine-turkey oak forest (Wells and Shunk 1931, Braun 1964, Waggoner 1975, Christensen 1988). Fox squirrels nested in areas characterized by open, low diversity, mature forest with little understory and xeric conditions. This contrasted markedly with conditions typical of gray squirrel nest sites, which generally were in areas of closed-canopy, high diversity, dense understory, and generally mesic conditions.

Nests are of critical importance to the survival of fox squirrels throughout their range, and nest selection and use by eastern fox squirrels has received considerable attention (Moore 1957, Hilliard 1979, Flyger and Smith 1980, Weigl et al. 1989, Kantola and Humphrey 1990). Tree hollows are particularly important in rearing young and for protection from severe weather for all tree squirrels.

Fox squirrels in the southeastern U.S. often use hardwood cavities in deciduous forest, bottomlands, and mixed forests, despite the fact that the majority of foraging takes place in pine-dominated stands. Kantola and Humphrey (1990) also reported higher nest use in lower slope situations than on drier sandhill areas. Suitable hollows are fairly scarce in pine-oak forests, primarily owing to timber management practices, firewood cutting, and oak suppression (Weigl et al. 1989; Weigl, pers. comm.), but are more abundant in adjacent more mesic habitats.

Leaf nests are frequently used during warmer months and in the more southern portions of the squirrels' range. Use of leaf nests in North Carolina was associated with periods of mild weather and/or abundant food, and Weigl et al. (1989) found that nest selection during the warmest periods occurred most often in moister habitats and wetland edges. In Florida, tree cavity nests were rarely used even when abundant, comprising only 7.4% of all nest locations recorded (Kantola and Humphrey 1990).

Occupied Landcover Map Units:
Code NameDescription NC Natural Heritage Program Equivalent
42 Xeric Longleaf Pine Sandhills including a range of longleaf pine density from predominantly wiregrass, scrub oak dominated to true longleaf pine woodland. This does not include mesic or saturated flatwood types. Xeric Sandhill Scrub, Pine/Scrub Oak Sandhill, Coastal Fringe Sandhill
46 Xeric Oak - Pine Forests Mixed forest dominated by yellow pines with white or northern red oaks co-dominating. Pine Oak Heath
232 Xeric Pine-Hardwood Woodlands and Forests Mixed forest dominated by yellow pines with drier oaks including southern red, post, and chestnut oaks. Dry Oak Hickory Forest
525 Appalachian Oak Forest A variety of oak forest types including Black, White, Scarlet Oaks in dry to mesic situations. Includes forests historically co-dominated by American Chestnut. High Elevation Red Oak Forest, Montane White Oak Forest
530 Appalachian Xeric Deciduous Forest Deciduous forests in the mountains dominated by Xeric Oak species. Species include, white, Southern red, black, and rock chestnut. High Elevation Red Oak Forest, Montane White Oak Forest
View Entire Landcover Legend
Additional Spatial Constraints:
Exclude all area outside of known range.
Wells, B.W., and I.V. Shunk. 1931. The vegetation and habitat factors of the coarser sands of the North Carolina Coastal Plain:An ecological study. Ecol. Monogr. 1:466-520.

Flyger, V., and D. A. Smith. 1980. A comparison of Delmarva fox squirrel and gray squirrel habitat and home ranges. Trans. Northeast Sec. of the Wildlife Society 37:19-22.

Flyger, V., and J. E. Gates. 1982. Fox and gray squirrels. Pages 209-229 in J. A. Chapman and G. A. Feldhamer, editors. Wild mammals of North America:biology, managment, and economics. Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, Baltimore.

Dueser, R. D., J. L. Dooley, Jr., and G. L. Taylor. 1988. Habitat structure, forest composition and landscape dimensions as components of habitat suitability for the Delmarva fox squirrel. Pages 414-421 in B88SZA01NA.

Moncrief, N. D. 1993. Geographic variation in fox squirrels (SCIURUS NIGER) and gray squirrels (S. CAROLINENSIS) of the lower Mississippi River valley. J. Mamm. 74:547-576.

Allen, D. L. 1943. Michigan for squirrel management. Michigan Dept. Conserv., Game Div. Publ. No. 100. 404 pp.

Moore, J. C. 1953. The fox squirrel in Florida:variation and natural history. Ph.D. thesis, Univ. Florida, Gainesville. 203 pp.

Weigl, P. D. Wake Forest University. Pers. comm.

Koprowski, J. L. 1994. Sciurus niger. Am. Soc. Mamm., Mammalian Species No. 479:1-9.

Kantola, A. T. 1986. Fox squirrel home range and mast crops in Florida. M.S. thesis, Univ. Florida, Gainesville. 68 pp.

Hafner, M. S., L. J. Barkley, and J. M. Chupasko. 1994. Evolutionary genetics of New World tree squirrels (tribe Sciurini). J. Mamm. 75:102-109.

Baumgartner, L.L. 1940. The fox squirrel:Its life history, habits, and management in Ohio. Ohio State Univ., unpubl. Ph. D. dissertation, 257 pp.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 19 August 1988. Notice of findings on petitions to list the Louisiana black bear, lower Keys marsh rabbit, and Sherman's fox squirrel. Federal Register 53:31723-31725.

Brown, L. N. 1997. A guide to the mammals of the southeastern United States. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville. xiv + 236 pp.

Whitaker, J.O. Jr. and W.J. Hamilton, Jr. 1998. Mammals of the eastern United States. Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, New York. 583 pp.

Moore, J.C. 1957. The natural history of the fox squirrel, Sciurus niger shermani. American Mus. Nat. Hist., Bull. 113, 71 pp.

Lee, D. S., L. B. Funderburg Jr., and M. K. Clark. 1982. A distributional survey of North Carolina mammals. Occasional Papers of the North Carolina Biological Survey, No. 1982-10. North Carolina State. Mus. Nat. Hist., Raleigh, North Carolina. 72 pp.

Burt, W. H. and R. P. Grossenheider. 1964. A field guide to the mammals. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

Kantola, A. T., and S. R. Humphrey. 1990. Habitat use by Sherman's fox squirrel (SCIURUS NIGER SHERMANI) in Florida. J. Mamm. 71:411-419.

Banfield, A.W.F. 1974. The mammals of Canada. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

Hamilton, William J., Jr., and John O. Whitaker, Jr. 1979. Mammals of the eastern United States. Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, New York. 346 pp.

Hall, E. R. 1981. The Mammals of North America. Second edition. 2 Volumes. John Wiley and Sons, New York, New York.

Schwartz, Charles W., and Elizabeth R. Schwartz. 1981. The wild mammals of Missouri. University of Missouri Press, Columbia. 356 pp.

Baker, Rollin H. 1983. Michigan mammals. Michigan State University Press. 642 pp.

Webster, W. D., J. F. Parnell and W. C. Biggs Jr. 1985. Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC.

Teaford, J. W. 1986. Squirrel nest boxes. Section 5.1.1, US Army Corps of Engineers Wildlife Resources Management Manual. Tech. Rep. EL-86-11. Waterways Expt. Station, Vicksburg, Mississippi. 15 pp.

Gurnell, J. 1987. The natural history of squirrels. Facts on File Publications, New York. 201 pp.

Nixon, C. M., and L. P. Hansen. 1987. Managing forests to maintain populations of gray and fox squirrels. Illinois Dept. Conserv. Tech Bull. 5. 39 pp.

Caire, W., J. D. Tyler, B. P. Glass, and M. A. Mares. Z. Marsh (illustrator). 1989. Mammals of Oklahoma. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. Oklahoma. 567 pp.

Weigl, P. D., et al. 1989. The ecology of the fox squirrel (SCIURUS NIGER) in North Carolina:implications for survival in the southeast. Bull. Tall Timbers Research Station 24:1-93.

Handley, C. O., Jr. 1991. Mammals. Pages 539-616 in K. Terwilliger, coordinator. Virginia's endangered species:proceedings of a symposium. McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company, Blacksburg, Virginia.

Christensen, N. L. 1988. Vegetation of the southeastern coastal plain. Pages 317-64 in M. G. Barbour, and W. D. Billings, editors. North American Terrestrial Vegetation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

10 March 2005
This data was compiled and/or developed by the North Carolina GAP Analysis Project.

For more information please contact them at:
NC-GAP Analysis Project
Dept. of Zoology, NCSU
Campus Box 7617
Raleigh, NC 27695-7617
(919) 513-2853