An American red squirrel has a mouth full of walnut, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.
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.
I see a lot of squirrels during my many photo hikes. And I’ve photographed many squirrels in poses like this one — sitting on a limb, tail curled over the back and holding a nut or other food in its front paws.
But seldom do I find one without a cluttered, distracting background of tree limbs.
I found this American red squirrel eating a walnut on a limb in Sharon Woods Metro Park north of Columbus, Ohio, on a December morning. The squirrel was in a tree at the edge of the woods, positioned against a blue sky — something I seldom find. So I grabbed a couple of shots before the squirrel was spooked by my presence, dropped the walnut and ran off.
I like how the squirrel’s paws are grasping the walnut and how dust from the walnut shell clings to the squirrel’s mouth.
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.