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Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus)
Species Fact Sheet
The Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel is named for the area defining most of its historic range: the peninsula between the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean that includes Delaware, eastern Maryland and eastern Virginia. This subspecies of fox squirrel historically occurred throughout the peninsula and into Pennsylvania.
By 1967, they inhabited only 10% of the Delmarva Peninsula and were placed on the first endangered species list. Forest clearing for agriculture, timber harvest and hunting at the turn of the century contributed to their decline. Recovery efforts are helping to turn the tide and now the population range is expanding.
What is the Delmarva Fox Squirrel?
The Delmarva fox squirrel (as it is more commonly called) is a large squirrel that lives in mature hardwood and pine forests throughout the farmlands of the Delmarva Peninsula. It can grow to 30 inches (with half of that being the tail) and can weigh 1 to 3 pounds. The squirrel's coat is typically a frosty silver-gray color but can vary in color to almost black. The only other tree squirrel on the Delmarva Peninsula is the common gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) which is often seen in backyard bird feeders and suburban settings. The widespread gray squirrel is smaller (16 to 20 inches), has a narrower tail and brownish gray fur.
Although the Delmarva fox squirrel is a tree squirrel, it spends considerable time on the ground foraging for food in woodlots, and will take food from farm fields. Less agile than the gray squirrel, the Delmarva fox squirrel ambles along the forest floor more than leaping from branch to branch. They are also quieter than the common gray squirrel. The home ranges of fox squirrels vary considerably, but average about 40 acres.
The Delmarva fox squirrel occurs in mature forests of mixed hardwoods and pines, with a closed canopy and open understory. The large trees provide abundant crops of acorns and seeds for food and cavities for den sites. Delmarva fox squirrels generally occur in woodlands associated with farmland areas and do not typically occur in suburban settings.
What is Being Done to Help Them Recover?
A major focus of the recovery effort has been to increase the population size and distribution of this species by reestablishing populations within the historic range. Following a study of the historic distribution, 16 reintroductions were made in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Eleven of these reintroductions have succeeded 15-20 years after their establishment.
In addition, observations of Delmarva fox squirrels have occurred in new areas where they were previously unknown. Thus the distribution is increasing because of new sightings of animals on the edge of the range and reintroductions. Currently the Delmarva fox squirrel occurs in eight counties on Maryland's Eastern Shore (all eastern shore counties except Cecil), Sussex County in Delaware and Accomack County in Virginia (Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge).
Monitoring changes in the population of this quiet, reclusive animal is challenging. Trapping and marking live animals provides the most information about a population and is the best technique to determine whether Delmarva fox squirrels occur in a particular location. Monitoring the use of artificial nest boxes has also helped to determine their long-term presence on some sites. In addition, recording all sightings of animals across their range using computer mapping programs has allowed better mapping of their distribution and easy updating of any changes.
New monitoring techniques are also being developed. Motion-triggered cameras can be placed in the woods and the resulting pictures provide evidence that Delmarva fox squirrels occur without the time and cost that trapping requires. Another technique considered is "hair-catcher" stations that can be baited and placed in the forest to collect hair. Samples collected can be taken back to a lab for identification. Research has already determined that the DNA in Delmarva fox squirrel hair can be distinguished from the gray squirrel.
The Future for Delmarva Fox Squirrels
The Delmarva fox squirrel is expected to have a bright future. A recent analysis of its status and potential threats found that the overall abundance and range-wide distribution of the species makes it resilient to losses that might occur from development, sea level rise or other threats (link to status review). In addition, there are many existing programs in the States that protect habitat for the squirrel. The review concludes that the squirrel is recovered and recommends proposing to remove it from the list of endangered and threatened species. The Service has begun working on this proposal.
Where Might You See a Delmarva Fox Squirrel?
To see a Delmarva fox squirrel and learn more about this unique resident of the Delmarva Peninsula, visit an of the following National Wildlife Refuges in the area: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) (Dorchester County, Maryland); Chincoteague (Accomack County, Virginia); and Prime Hook (Sussex County, Delaware). Also be on the look out in the woods and field edges throughout its range.
For more information, contact:
Dr. Cherry Keller
Endangered Species Program
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Chesapeake Bay Field Office
177 Admiral Cochrane Drive
Annapolis, MD 21401