Fox squirrels typically require a larger home range than gray squirrels. The more open habitat that fox squirrels prefer has fewer nut-bearing trees per acre than the denser forests that gray squirrels prefer. Fewer trees means fox squirrels must roam more widely in search of food.
Both gray and fox squirrels begin to compete for mates in late December. Chasing females is an important part of the ritual, and it can go on for weeks. Mating occurs some time in January.
The breeding biology of gray and fox squirrels is similar. Gestation is surprisingly long for such small rodents. Litters of two to five kits (the average is three) are born in a tree cavity lined with leaves about 45 days after mating. Birthing peaks in mid-March. Newborn squirrels measure about two inches in length and weigh about one-half ounce.
Development of the young is slow. Baby squirrels open their eyes at four to five weeks and wean at about eight weeks. It's usually May before young squirrels can be seen scampering in treetops.
If food is abundant and females are healthy, a second litter follows in July or early August. In years following a poor nut crop or a severe winter, females forego the summer litter.
Red squirrels are the smallest tree squirrels in North America. What they lack in size, they compensate for with attitude. They are vocal and aggressive. Where reds overlap with grays and foxes, red squirrels are often behaviorally dominant. Though mature coniferous forests of white pine and hemlock are the red squirrel's preferred habitat, they also occur in mixed woods and sometimes even pure deciduous stands.
Red squirrels mating behavior follows the pattern for grays and foxes, but it does not begin until February, and only southern populations typically have a second litter.
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