California Ground Squirrel or Beechey ground squirrel

Spermophilus beecheyi

California Ground Squirrel or Beechey ground squirrel
Photo: Sherry Ballard © California Academy of Sciences

Squirrels are important members of the forest ecosystem. Their seed burying habits help with tree regeneration. Many species of squirrels dig holes about as deep as their head and bury seeds for later retrieval, which they do by smell. Some also root out fungi, usually consumed on the spot. (I have seen the tree squirrels doing this in Long Valley.) Grounds squirrels are a larger version of the chipmunk. Their coats vary in color; they may be flecked, spotted or striped, but no stripes on the head, and they have a scantily furred tail. Most live in open spaces near rocks and stumps where they can easily view the surrounding area. However, they do not climb trees. In conifer forests they feed on pine or fir seeds. They have inner cheek pouches for carrying food or nesting material. Some are carriers of the plague, which is transmitted by fleas. Their weight fluctuates radically from season to season. Ground squirrels living above the snow line hibernate in winter.

Family:
Sciuridae
Description:
A large ground squirrel, gray-brown in color ticked with black and white hair ends; rarely with faint light lateral stripes. Tail not as long or bushy as that of the tree squirrel.
Track:
Size:
Overall length 17 inches; weighs about 1 ½ lbs.
Habitat:
Common in fields of stubble, along roadsides; in open woods; avoids dense forests and areas where the vegetative growth is tall enough to obstruct the view.
Range:
Found in most of CA southeastern desert; from sea level to 9000’; from WA south through Baja CA.
Food:
A great variety of seeds, berries and leaves of grasses, forbs and woody plants; occasionally they will dig some bulbs.
Breeding:
From 3 to 10 young (av 5-6) in a single annual litter; time of birth varies with locality, usually from April into June.
Comments:
Voice a sharp chirp when alarmed.
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