Can You Have A Pet Squirrel In New York? (Legal or Illegal)


Squirrels look so cute doing the things they naturally do, holding their nuts with their claws, gnawing at them with their sharp teeth, sniffing around for food, and climbing up and down giant trees. If you live in New York, you’re probably wondering, ‘Can you have a pet squirrel in New York?’ 

Can You Have A Pet Squirrel In New York?

The law forbids any person from possessing a wild animal in the state of New York. Fox and grey squirrels are regulated under game laws, which makes them illegal to keep as pets.  

Whether you’re thinking about rescuing a squirrel or catching one to domesticate, there are some things you should be aware of as a New York resident. 

Is it Illegal to Have a Pet Squirrel in New York?

Yes. It’s against the law to have a pet squirrel in New York. According to New York’s Fish and Wildlife law, no person is allowed to possess knowingly, sell, harbor, barter, exchange, import, or transfer any wild animal to have as a pet in New York State. 

The only people allowed to keep a squirrel as a pet are the ones who already had it by the time this section in the law went into effect. 

Such individuals can keep their pet squirrels for the remainder of the animal’s life. Even so, there are still conditions for anyone holding onto the pet squirrel. They include the following:

  • You should not have been convicted of an offense of animal cruelty or be under a court order prohibiting animal possession.
  • You should have applied to the department within six months from the date of this section.
  • You should be compliant with all related federal, state, or local laws.
  • You should report a release of the animal to your local police department and animal control immediately upon discovery. Each escape your animal makes during twelve months will subject you to penalties by the department.

In compliance with the above conditions, the department will issue a license authorizing the possession of your squirrel. 

The license will be renewable every two years for the lifetime of your squirrel, subject to your continued compliance with the above.

Can You Relocate to New York With A Pet Squirrel?

Some states such as South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee allow its residents to keep squirrels as pets. If you’re relocating with a pet squirrel you acquired from a different state, you can still be fined for the issue and possession of a wild animal without a permit. 

In 2018 the Environmental Conservation Officer fined a Rockland county man (ECO) for keeping a ‘pet’ squirrel in his apartment basement. 

Squirrels don’t make good pets, and if you live in an apartment, there’s a high probability that your neighbors will report you to the ECO. 

Can You Obtain a Wildlife Rehabilitator License?

Yes, you can apply for a wildlife rehabilitator license. It authorizes any New York resident to engage in rehabilitation and care for an injured or orphaned baby squirrel to return it to the wild.

You won’t pay any fee for the license, and the validity is five years. An assistant license is only one year.

You must be 16 years old and above to obtain the license.

Squirrels of New York

New York is home to four squirrels: the Eastern Gray squirrel, Fox squirrel, Red squirrel, and Flying squirrel. However, the Eastern Gray squirrel is the most popular one.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray squirrels are abundant and live almost all over the New York state. This medium-sized squirrel measures between 16 and 20 inches in length and weighs between 1 to 1.5 pounds. It has a grayish-brown upperside fur coat and a lighter tone on its belly area. It has a bushy tail with white tips.  

This squirrel lives in natural and urban areas, especially where it can easily access food, water, and shelter. They are commonly found in woodland areas, especially in hardwood trees like oaks and hickories. You will also spot them in residential areas and city parks.

It’s an energetic species that jumps from one tree to another and climbs up and down very quickly. 

It generally prefers to collect food in trees, but when the seeds and nuts fall to the ground, it’s left with no choice but to forage on the ground. This is how it becomes a target for prey like hawks, coyotes, and foxes.

The eastern gray squirrel eats almost everything, including acorns, hickory nuts, seeds, berries, wild grapes, walnuts, tree buds, pine seeds, insects, beechnuts, and sometimes bird eggs and baby birds.

Fox Squirrel (Sciurus Niger)

The Fox squirrel is larger than the Gray species, sometimes doubling its size. A fully grown male fox squirrel weighs up to 2.5 pounds (sometimes 3 pounds) and has a large bushy tail. Its fur coat is a deep orange rusty color but can vary from grey to black as well. 

In New York, most Fox squirrels stay around the western part of the state, mainly along large water bodies like the Genesee River and Lake Erie’s shoreline. 

The fox squirrel loves hanging out in mature trees like hickory, oak, pine, and walnut. However, human proximity doesn’t phase them as they are open to park-like areas, golf courses, and urban neighborhoods. You might even find one building a nest in your attic.

The fox squirrel is less energetic than the Gray, as it appears to move sluggishly. Its diet is almost the same as the Gray squirrel and includes nuts, acorns, seeds, fruit, tubers, tree buds, insects, roots, fungi, pine seeds, hard and soft mast, and occasionally bird eggs. 

Red Squirrel 

The red squirrel is small, with an adult weighing around half a pound. Its fur coat has an orange-red tone, although it can vary from ginger to dark brown. During winter, its fur is slightly grey-colored. 

The squirrel is named after the rusty color along its back and tail. It is separated from the whitish underside by a black stripe. The tail of a red squirrel is large, bushy, and almost the size of its body.

Red squirrels primarily exist in woodlands and evergreen areas like coniferous and mixed woodland. They are energetic and aggressive and spend their days running or climbing trees quickly. 

They are quite noisy, and you’ll probably hear them chattering. These squirrels are in more abundance than any other type in the Adirondacks area in Northeastern New York.

Red squirrels mostly eat nuts and seeds like pine seeds, hazelnuts, larch, and spruce seeds. They can also widen their diet to include fungi, fruit, bark, tree shoots, and lichen. 

They’ll rarely eat baby birds and bird eggs, but when they are desperately hungry, it’s possible.

Flying Squirrels (Glaucomys Volans)

The Flying squirrel measures 7 to 10 inches in length and has distinct large eyes. With an average weight of about two ounces, the flying species are the smallest squirrels in New York. The Northern Flying squirrel has a reddish-brown fur coat and the Southern Flying squirrel is a greyish color. 

Don’t be surprised if you don’t spot any during the day as they are nocturnal. Although they can’t practically fly, they glide through the air from one tree to another with a special membrane’s help. 

This membrane extends across their bodies from the forefeet to the hind feet. When they extend their feet, the membrane stretches and forms a wing-like structure.

The typical habitat for Flying squirrels is coniferous forests with hickory, oak, beech, and maple trees. They tend to build homes in woodpecker holes and abandoned nests.

In New York, you’ll find both the Southern and Northern Flying squirrels. The Southern flying squirrels predominantly live south of the Mohawk River Valley. And the Northern Flying squirrels mostly stay around the northern part of New York. 

Southern Flying squirrels mostly feed on nuts, seeds, berries, lichens, flowers, and fresh leaves. On the other hand, the Northern Flying species eat more fungi and lichens. They regularly visit bird feeders at night. 

Final Word

The state of New York is strict with its law on pets that they invite neighbors to report anyone around them that is keeping a squirrel or any wild and illegal animal as a pet. 

If you have an illegal pet, you have the option of dropping it off at any Animal Care Centers in NYC. Dropping off the unlicensed animal frees you from any violation.

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