What Are Ground Squirrels?
Ground squirrels belong to the rodent family, and their scientific name is Spermophilus beechey. They are small to medium-sized rodents who live throughout the US, from central Washington to Oregon, California, and into the northern parts of Baja California.
Here are a few interesting ground squirrel facts you should know:
- The ground squirrel was named after Frederick William Beechey, who explored the area around Northern California from 1826-1828 and is credited with discovering the small rodents.
- Ground squirrels can live up to 6 years in the wild.
- Ground squirrels create essential habitats for other animals, like snakes and rodents, which occupy the ground squirrels’ empty burrows.
- When threatened by predators, ground squirrels emit a high-pitched alarm call to warn other squirrels nearby.
How to Identify Ground Squirrels
Adult ground squirrels look similar to tree squirrels, so how can you identify them reliably?
Here are a few telltale signs to look for:
Adult ground squirrels have mottled fur in a combination of gray and light brown.
They’re known for displaying a band of darker fur, which starts at their head and extends over the middle of their back.
They have gray fur patterns that create a cape over their head and shoulders and light buff bellies. Adults can grow up to 11 inches in length and have bushy, distinctive tails.
The most significant differences between tree squirrels and ground squirrels involve behavior:
When threatened, tree squirrels will climb while ground squirrels race for their burrows.
Behavior, Diet, and Habits of Ground Squirrels
Ground squirrels live throughout the US and are primarily found between central Washington and the northern part of Baja California.
They’re common throughout Oregon and California and tend to live in meadows, plains, tree-covered areas, and rocky outcroppings that provide them plenty of shelter.
When it comes to diet, ground squirrels rely primarily on seeds. They love to eat barley, acorns, and oats but also eat bird eggs, insects like grasshoppers and crickets, tubers, roots, and fruit.
Ground squirrels are avid foragers and utilize cheek pouches to store the food they collect. Like other squirrel species, they take food back to their burrows, where they store it for future use.
Ground squirrels live communally and use different sounds to communicate with other squirrels in their colonies. They live on the ground and in underground burrow systems, which can provide shelter for several generations of ground squirrels. They typically stay within 150 yards of their burrow entrance and are highly territorial creatures.
What Problems Do Ground Squirrels Cause?
Are ground squirrels harmful? They can be! When populations grow out of control, ground squirrels can cause extensive damage to food-bearing and ornamental plants, especially grains, fruit and nut trees, and gardens.
They consume plants in the seedling stage, damage young trees, vines, and shrubs by gnawing their bark or girdling trunks, and can even burrow around roots, damaging and drying out the roots of plants.
As they dig, ground squirrels may gnaw on plastic sprinkler heads, irrigation boxes, or utility lines. Eventually, the burrows and mounds ground squirrels create can make it difficult to mow and maintain your yard. Burrows can also create dangers for livestock and, when they occur under or around a home’s foundation, create soil instability that necessitates expensive repairs.
Finally, ground squirrels can carry diseases that can harm humans and domestic pets. The most common include bubonic plague, tularemia, and Chagas’ disease.
What Are The Signs of
a Ground Squirrel Infestation
You can identify the ground squirrel by their behaviors and the type of damage they cause:
Ground squirrels dig new burrows in open grassland, orchards, and around building foundations, patios, decks, and gardens all over California.
Ground squirrels will also happily re-inhabit old burrows. Burrows have average openings of about 4” in diameter and are characterized by prominent entrance mounds.
2. Activity Outside Burrows
In our region, ground squirrels are active year-round and especially spring through fall. It is very common to find them sitting on rocks and hanging out in large groups chattering away. In addition to their social gatherings, ground squirrels will raid gardens and orchards. In fact, these pests often eat all the grapes right before a harvest.
3. Ground Squirrel Damages
Scrape marks on trees and vines, sheds, and garages as well as gravel scraped out from under concrete are common squirrel damages property owners in California notice when these pests have become a problem on their land.
Ground squirrels also cause damage to foundations, pool, and other structures. In fact, in the video below, you’ll see ground squirrel damage to a walkway at a school in Santa Clara, CA.
How to Prevent Ground Squirrels
They can go to great lengths to access food, including digging under fences.
That said, here are a few tips to prevent ground squirrels:
- Remove potential food sources, including bird feeders and pet food. Clean up all food scraps and spills promptly.
- Remove brush and vegetation that provide cover for ground squirrels.
- Use scent-based deterrents to prevent ground squirrels
- Rip old burrows to a depth of 20 inches to deter activity
- Contact a professional pest management company like Smith’s at the first sign of ground squirrel infestation
How Smith’s Gets Rid Of Ground Squirrels
For effective ground squirrel control, contact Smith’s Pest Management.
Serving the San Francisco Bay area, the Monterey Bay area, and Sonoma County, Smith’s has helped evict ground squirrels from orchards, schools, and other commercial environments as well as residential properties.
We start by providing an initial ground squirrel inspection, during which we identify existing ground squirrel populations and evaluate the damage.
Next, we develop a management plan and deploy services. Finally, we’ll return to your property to assess ground squirrel populations and provide follow-up treatment as needed.
Visit our ground squirrel control page to learn how we get rid of these pests, or simply give us a call!
Bob M. - Fremont, CA
The gophers killed my fruit trees, and upended my garden and it became impossible to keep up with them. So I contacted Smith and they took care of them for me.