The Badger State consists of 16 million acres of forested land. This makes it the ideal home for squirrels, deer, rabbits, and other small mammals. Wisconsin is home to 10 species of tree, flying and ground squirrels. Cheeseheads will come across various squirrels while hiking, visiting parks, in the city, or in their backyards.
Let’s take a closer look at them.
Regardless of the species, all the rodents play essential roles in the ecosystem by dispersing seeds and serving as food sources for predators. As you begin to understand these animals, you’ll learn to appreciate them better.
Types of Squirrels in Wisconsin
As mentioned above, the state is abundant in natural resources, making it home to 10 species of squirrels.
Let’s take a closer look at each species.
Tree squirrels are the most common type of squirrel found in Wisconsin. They can be found in different habitats throughout the state.
- Gray squirrels: Gray squirrels are the most abundant species found in hardwood forests, wooded parks, and residential areas throughout Wisconsin, especially in the central part of the state. They are omnivores who prefer nuts, seeds, fruit, and insects.
- Red squirrels: Smaller than gray squirrels, red squirrels also inhabit wooded areas and parks. They have distinctive rusty-colored fur and generally prefer conifer forests.
- Fox squirrels: These tree squirrels are larger than the previous two and have a combination of gray and orange fur. They prefer mixed forests with both hardwoods and conifers.
The state is home to several species of ground squirrels, including:
- Eastern and Least Chipmunks
- 13 Lined Ground Squirrel
- Franklin’s Ground Squirrel
The 13-lined squirrel also known as “Federation Squirrels” is the most commonly found ground squirrel throughout the state. Unfortunately, these small mammals can become nuisance issues to homeowners.
These rodents build their underground burrows in wide open grasslands, parks, golf courses, cemeteries and even urban gardens.
Their camouflage pattern makes it easy for them to hide from predators. They spend their days hunting for food no more than 200 feet from its burrow. Their diet consists of nuts, bulbs, roots, seeds, insects such as grasshoppers, cicadas, caterpillars, and crickets.
These rodents can easily be confused for a chipmunk. However, unlike chipmunks the 13-lined squirrel carries its tail straight out behind its body while running, the chipmunk holds it’s tail upright.
Wisconsin also has two species of flying squirrels: the Northern flying squirrel and the Southern flying squirrel. These nocturnal rodents are found in mature forests with plenty of fallen logs and tree cavities which they use as protection from predators.
The Northern flying squirrel is slightly larger than its sister species, the southern flying squirrel. Unfortunately, the Northern flying squirrel is designated as “threatened” or “endangered,” due to habitat loss and degradation, predation, etc.
Northern flying squirrels reside in the northern forested regions of the state. Its southern flying cousins reside inBurnett County in western Wisconsin, Outagamie and Door Counties in eastern Wisconsin, and in areas throughout Clark and Portage Counties.
Habitats and Ecology
Woodlands and Forests
In Wisconsin, you will find various types of squirrels in woodlands and forests. Eastern Gray Squirrels are the most common critters in Wisconsin.
Fox Squirrels have a diet similar to gray squirrels, but they build their nests in oak, hickory, walnut, and pecan trees.
Red squirrels and Northern flying squirrels are more common in northern evergreen forests, whereas Southern flying squirrels prefer Wisconsin hardwood forests.
Urban and Suburban Areas
Squirrels have adapted well to urbanized environments. They can thrive in city parks, gardens, and areas with abundant trees. Due to their adaptability, this species does not need to live exclusively in natural woodlands.
Their population has evolved to where they have become a nuisance to some homeowners, and the state now classifies them as small game animals.
Grasslands and Meadows
Though not as common, Wisconsin grasslands and meadows are home to some species of ground squirrels, such as; the Thirteen-Lined ground squirrel. Like their cousins, the tree squirrels and ground squirrels are essential in distributing seeds and aerating soil in these ecosystems.
Behavior and Diet
Below is a look at the behavioral and dietary preferences of each type of squirrel.
As you observe squirrels in Wisconsin, you’ll notice they display different foraging patterns. Let’s take a closer look:
- Tree squirrels: The most common types, like gray squirrels and fox squirrels, are known for their love of nuts, such as acorns, walnuts, and hazelnuts. They often bury nuts in the ground to save for later, a behavior called caching. This helps them survive the winter months when food is scarce.
- Ground squirrels: Ground squirrels focus mainly on seeds, insects, and small fruits. They forage close to the ground and rely on their burrow systems to retreat, sleep, hibernate, store food, and raise their young.
- Flying squirrels: Both northern and southern flying squirrels can be found in the state, mainly in the northern evergreen forests. These nocturnal creatures glide between trees in search of fungi, lichen, and sometimes nesting birds or insects.
Each species has its unique social patterns, with some similarities, such as:
- Tree squirrels: Both gray and red squirrels are typically solitary animals, only coming together during mating season. However, during colder months, they may share nests for warmth.
- Ground squirrels: Generally more social and gregarious than tree squirrels, ground squirrels often form loose colonies to help protect against predators and share resources.
- Flying squirrels: These unique creatures are relatively social, often sharing nests (called dreys) with their family members or other flying squirrels of the same sex.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Mating and Nesting
During the breeding season, which typically occurs between late February and March, you may witness an increase in squirrel activity as they search for mates.
Once a male squirrel locates a receptive female, it will mate, and soon after, the female will begin building her nest.
Tree squirrels, such as the eastern gray squirrel, construct large nests made of leaves and twigs high up in the trees to provide safety and warmth for their offspring, often referred to as a “den.”
Ground squirrels like the 13-lined squirrels expansive burrows which can be 1-2 feet deep.
These burrows not only provide shelter for the young but also serve as hibernation sites for adult ground squirrels.
Flying squirrels, on the other hand, prefer to nest in tree cavities or nest boxes. Their unique gliding abilities allow them to easily access these elevated nesting locations.
Conservation and Human Interaction
Threats and Challenges
All wildlife, including squirrels, face different threats and challenges related to conservation and human interaction. This includes challenges such as:
- Habitat loss
- Climate change
- Agriculture (which is contributing to the change in a squirrel’s dietary habits.)
What You Can Do to Help
According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, habitat loss, fragmentation, and competition with non-native species will eventually lead to the endangerment of the Northern flying squirrel.
As a Cheesehead, there are several actions you can take:
- Educate yourself: Learn more about the different types of squirrels in your area and the threats they face. By understanding their needs and the challenges they face, you can make informed decisions on how to help them.
- Plant native trees and vegetation: By planting native trees and vegetation, you’re providing the squirrels with natural food sources, nesting spots, and shelter from predators.
- Provide nest boxes: If you have a yard or access to a suitable area, consider installing nest boxes for squirrels. These provide them additional safe places to rest, raise their young, and escape from predators.
- Avoid using pesticides: Chemicals present in pesticides can cause harm to squirrels and their food sources, so opt for more sustainable and wildlife-friendly pest control methods.
- Slow down when driving: Many squirrels fall victim to car collisions, especially during the fall season when they are collecting food for the winter. Be more careful when driving, particularly in areas where squirrels are common.
By taking these steps, you’re playing a vital role in preserving Wisconsin’s squirrel population and contributing to their habitats’ overall well-being.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there any laws or regulations associated with squirrels in Wisconsin?
Yes, there are some laws and regulations in place in Wisconsin when it comes to squirrel management and hunting. The state classifies gray and fox squirrels as small game animals to help control the population. It is illegal to hunt or kill flying squirrels, especially the northern flying squirrel.
All hunters must abide by the rules and regulations, such as license requirements, bag limits, hunting seasons, etc.
Wisconsin is home to several species of squirrels. Some species can become a nuisance, so it’s important to understand the laws and regulations regarding these small mammals.
Regardless of how you feel about squirrels, they play a vital role in the ecosystem.
As you continue your journey to learn more about Wisconsin’s squirrels, remember to treat these animals with respect and appreciate their importance in maintaining the balance of the environment.
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