5 Types of Squirrels and How to Tell Them Apart

Look for these clues to tell different types of squirrels apart, and learn more about squirrels' quirky habits and where to find them.

Types of Squirrels You Should Know

A squirrel with a gray back and orange belly nibbles on seed.Courtesy Becky Gish
A squirrel nibbles on birdseed

You may have a concrete idea of what a squirrel is and looks like but there are many distinct types of squirrels, with over 65 species that live in North America. The most common types of squirrels are tree squirrels, ground squirrels and flying squirrels. Here is what sets them apart.

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What Types of Squirrels Visit Bird Feeders?

Couclc17 Bill Hanch 001Courtesy Bill Hanch / Country magazine
A gray squirrel trying to reach a bird feeder

During the day, the most common type of squirrel you’ll see at a feeder is a tree squirrel. Gray squirrels, fox squirrels and red squirrels are all types of tree squirrels. While these encounters may produce some funny squirrel pictures, you may want to keep them away from your feeders to save your birdseed.

Three methods can keep your birds eat in peace.

1. Gray Squirrels

A gray squirrel with a curled, bushy tail sits on a railing.John Van Decker/Alamy Stock Photo
A gray squirrel with a curled, bushy tail

Species: Eastern, western and Arizona gray squirrel

Traits: Look for their gray backs and lighter undersides. The eastern gray has brownish accents on the face, feet and tail, but the others are almost entirely gray.

Habitat: Gray squirrels are especially acrobatic and can be seen anywhere from the ground to treetops in deciduous and mixed forests.

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2. Fox Squirrels

An eastern fox squirrel with orange undersides and orange-brown tail sits in a tree.Rolfnussbaumer.com
An eastern fox squirrel with orange undersides and an orange-brown tail

Species: Eastern and Mexican fox squirrel

Traits: Some of the largest tree squirrels, these species weigh in at nearly 2 pounds. Their coats vary from region to region, but most have foxy orange trim on their sides and tails.

Habitat: You’re likely to spot fox squirrels on the ground, as they aren’t as agile as gray squirrels.

3. Reddish Squirrels

A red squirrel with a foxy brown coat and white undersides and eye ring rests on a branch.Skip Moody/Dembinsky Photo Associates/Alamy Stock Photo
A red squirrel with a foxy brown coat, white undersides and eye ring 

Species: Red and Douglas squirrel

Traits: They may be small, but they are the most active, noisy and colorful group of tree squirrels. Both species have large patches of red, although the Douglas’ has a darker gray-brown back in winter.

Habitat: Look for these species in forests with coniferous trees—they primarily eat seeds from cones.

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4. Flying Squirrels

types of squirrels, flying squirrelAnom Harya/Shutterstock
A flying squirrel leaps from a tree and uses its skin flaps to glide to its landing spot.

Species: Southern and northern flying squirrel

Traits: Their large eyes help them see in the dark, and extra skin allows them to hang glide from tree to tree. They’re some of the cutest squirrels, inspiring many gifts for squirrel lovers.

Habitat: Despite being common, flying squirrels are not seen as often as other tree squirrels because they’re only active at night. They tuck themselves into holes in trees during the day to sleep.

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5. Ground Squirrels

types of squirrelsCourtesy Tina Wiley
Golden-mantled ground squirrel 

Species: California, Wyoming and Belding’s ground squirrel

Traits: Generally more dense or chunkier-looking than tree squirrels. Some species’ tails are much shorter as well.

Habitat: When threatened, these squirrels scurry to their burrows (or a tree, if they’re in a pinch). They tend to live in small colonies underground and are active during the day.

Next, learn how to create the ultimate backyard wildlife and bird habitat.

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Rachel Maidl
Rachel Maidl is a senior editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. She enjoys bird-watching in her urban backyard and local state parks, gardening for pollinators and researching new plants. Her favorite backyard visitors are the bumblebees that visit her sedums.