On the Wild Side!
E-Newsletter for the Chesapeake Bay Field Office


Delmarva Fox Squirrel: Journey to Recovery

Delmarva Fox Squirrel caught on camera.
Delmarva Fox Squirrel caught on camera.
Photo by USFWS

Once found throughout the entire Delmarva Peninsula, Delmarva fox squirrels (Sciurus niger cinereus) inhabited only a handful of Maryland counties when it was listed as endangered in 1967.

But the future is looking much brighter for the Delmarva fox squirrel! Today the squirrel’s range has increased to 10 counties, with a current population of up to 20,000 squirrels.

A large silver grey tree squirrel, the Delmarva fox squirrel prefers mature woodlands of mixed pines and hardwoods with a closed canopy and open understory. It thrives in the rural landscapes and is more likely to be found in the woods near farm fields than in suburbs.

In the mid 1900’s, many factors contributed to its decline. As forests were cleared for farms and development, the squirrel's habitat decreased. Timber harvests on short cycles decreased the amount of mature woodlands. Over hunting of fox squirrels may also have played a role in its decline.

Since the species was listed, the hunting season was closed and Federal and State biologists working with private citizens began restoring the squirrel to a greater part of its historic range. Maryland State and Federal biologists re-introduced animals to several large farms where populations continue to thrive today.

There are currently 11 successful translocations across the range and the squirrel’s distribution now covers 28 percent of the Delmarva Peninsula. About 8 percent of the forest occupied by Delmarva fox squirrels is on Federal land, 10 percent is on State owned land, and the remaining 82 percent is on private land.

The habitat provided by private landowners is supporting the squirrel and its ability to thrive on the working landscapes of the Delmarva Peninsula

Several re-introductions occurred on National Wildlife Refuges such as Chincoteague and Prime Hook, and the source of squirrels for many of these translocations was Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is in the heart of the Delmarva fox squirrel distribution where these squirrels are very abundant and a great deal of research and monitoring work is also conducted there.

Federal and academic researchers have worked on a variety of projects ranging from understanding the effects of fire and timber harvest to development of new monitoring techniques such as camera surveys.

In addition to the translocations, the Delmarva fox squirrel population has also expanded into new areas on its own. Sightings of these animals have been reported by Federal and State biologists as well as knowledgeable citizens who live, work and hunt in these rural landscapes. These sightings and photos recorded by hunters on their trail cameras have provided records that are sent in and mapped by the Chesapeake Bay Field Office and they document a larger range and healthier distribution for this species. Citizens are encouraged to email photographs of Delmarva fox squirrels with date and location information to cherry_keller@fws.gov.

The 2012 5-year Status Review analyzed the most current information known about the squirrel. Over 90 percent of the forest area that was occupied by Delmarva fox squirrels as of 1990 continues to be occupied 20 years later. The analyses in the Status Review indicate that the Delmarva fox squirrel distribution is now sufficiently large and well distributed to withstand current and future threats.

For more information contact:
Cherry Keller

Last updated: March 27, 2013