ND Squirrels


How many kinds of squirrels can be found in North Dakota?  I was flipping through Robert Seabloom’s Mammals of North Dakota published in 2011 recently.  With the exception of ground squirrels and some other members of the squirrel family, he lists four species that most people would call squirrels: the northern flying squirrel. Eastern gray, fox, and red squirrels.

The northern flying squirrel has been documented in only Grand Forks and Walsh counties, but may also occur in the wooded areas along the Red River, and perhaps the Turtle Mountains although documentation is lacking.

The most common and widely distributed squirrel in the state is the fox squirrel. It is interesting to note that this species is probably not native to the state.  Seabloom notes that records of the species begin in the 1940’s when they apparently extended their range into North Dakota from Minnesota and South Dakota.  He goes on to state that they may be regarded as occupying suitable habitats throughout the state.

Eastern gray squirrels could only be found in wooded areas of the southeastern part of the state up to the early 1900’s.  But due to range expansion and introductions into cities such as Valley City, Jamestown, Bismarck, and Minot, they can now be found over much of the state with the exception of the extreme southwest and the northern border counties.

The red squirrel is a much smaller species, and unlike the gray and fox squirrels which look similar in form with different colored fur, the red squirrel has a reddish body with white underparts and a white ring around the eye.  There is also a dark band of hair bordering the white belly and upper body.  Red squirrels seem to be much more active as well.  They are metaphorically wired to a 220.

Red squirrels are not nearly as widely distributed in the state as their counterparts.  Their range is roughly timbered areas in the counties along and adjacent to the states eastern border and the northern tier of counties from Burke County eastward.    They may also be inhabiting the ponderosa pine stands south of Medora as well as along the Knife River in Mercer County, but again this is not well documented.

So make a mental note of the squirrels you observe.  They are fun to watch, plus they remind us about how animal ranges change and how we may still need to document their presence in many areas.

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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