09.13.20: Looking out its door

An American red squirrel peers from a knothole in a tree in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

An American red squirrel peers from a knothole in a tree in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

Just a photo of a squirrel hanging out at home

After a few minutes the squirrel stuck its head out to have a look. It ducked back in about a minute later but by then I had grabbed a few shots. 

I have a large number of squirrel photos in my files. Squirrels are plentiful in our area and tend to hang out in interesting settings, making them an easy target for photography.

This photo of an American red squirrel looking out its front door — a knothole in a tree — while hanging out at home is one of a handful of photos that I put near the top of the list.

I shot it while photo-hiking in Sharon Woods Metro Park near Columbus, Ohio, on an overcast November morning in 2006. I had seen the squirrel hanging around this tree deep in the woods the previous week, chasing other squirrels away if they ventured onto the tree's limbs.

When I saw this knothole about four feet above the ground I thought the squirrel could be living inside the tree. So I set up about 20 feet away, focused on the knothole and waited to see if anyone was home.

After a few minutes the squirrel stuck its head out to have a look. It ducked back in about a minute later but by then I had grabbed a few shots.

I guess this is a lucky shot. I was there at the right time of the right day of the right year to get the photo. I walked by that spot a few other times that fall and the squirrel didn’t look out the knothole. By the following spring a bush in front of the tree had grown and was blocking the knothole. Today the bush is about 20 feet tall. I know the knothole is there but it is impossible to see.

Central Ohio, where we live part of the year, is home to three types of squirrels: the eastern gray squirrel, the fox squirrel and the American red squirrel like the one in the photo. 

The eastern gray squirrel seems to be the most common in our area. This squirrel has mostly gray fur, but it can have a brownish color. The underside is white and it has a large, bushy tail. Gray squirrels are typically between 16 and 22 inches long, from tip of the nose to the tip of the tail. The body alone is 9 to 12 inches long. 

The fox squirrel is the largest squirrel found in Central Ohio, measuring anywhere from 25 to 40 inches long, from tip of the nose to tip of the tail. The body alone is between 18 and 28 inches long. Fox squirrels, in most regions, have brown-grey to brown-yellow upper bodies with a typically brownish-orange underside.

The American red squirrel is the runt of the bunch, measuring about 12 inches from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail. Their heads often seem large, out of proportion with the body size. The squirrels are rusty, reddish-brown most of the year — resembling a large chipmunk — but they turn slightly grayer in winter. The underside is white. American red squirrels are more territorial than eastern gray or fox squirrels and are extremely vocal, chattering or barking when something (or someone) encroaches on their territory.

I haven’t seen any black squirrels in my area, although I have seen them in northern Ohio, in Washington, D.C., and some other areas. The black squirrel isn’t a separate species. Instead, it’s a somewhat rare mutation that occurs in both gray squirrels and fox squirrels. 

I have seen a white squirrel, just once, in our backyard on Christmas Day 2016. We watched it as it attempted to reach our bird feeder a few times that day. We had never seen it before and we haven’t seen it since. I guess it was just visiting relatives for the holiday.

White squirrels, like black squirrels, are genetic mutations. White squirrels are typically gray squirrels with one of two genetic aberrations, according to the UntamedScience website: “The first is albinism, caused by a mutation on a gene that codes for pigmentation. Albinos have red eyes. The other is a white morph, caused by a different gene. It is a naturally occurring trait of eastern grey squirrels that is very, very rare.”

I couldn’t tell if the squirrel in our yard had red eyes, but the white fur really stood out. And that’s a problem for the squirrel, because the white fur makes it easy to spot for hawks and other predators. 

Tech specs

  • Date/time: Nov. 4, 2006, 9:44 a.m.
  • Location: 40° 7' 5.2386" N, 82° 58' 13.1088" W (Show in Google Maps)
  • Camera: Canon EOS 20
  • Lens: Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm)
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter: 1/320th second
  • ISO: 800