Wild creatures among us: The incomparable Douglas' Squirrel

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"I heard an owl"
By John W. Lewis 
and Gloria Z. Nagler
Photos by Gloria Z. Nagler

We have somehow managed to reside in Lake Forest Park for over twenty years and not notice a Douglas’ Squirrel (aka “dougies” for the purpose of this article) until two years ago!

Now, of course, we’re besotted with the miniature squirrels. We have included three recent photos Gloria made of the three dougies who hang out in and near our yard. One of our neighbors says she has never seen a dougie near her home, though everyone in our neighborhood sees the ubiquitous Gray Squirrels.

Douglas’ Squirrel is named after Scottish naturalist David Douglas, who travelled to the Pacific Northwest in the early 19th century and named many animals and plants, including the Douglas Fir. And, yes, Douglas’ Squirrels enjoy eating seeds from Douglas Firs.

Dougies are also known as pine squirrels and chickarees. Pine squirrels because they eat and bury pine seeds (and help propagate pine trees thereby!) and chickarees perhaps because of their chittery call, which you’ll hear often if you are visited often by a dougie.

John and I are not alone in adoring dougies. According to Wikipedia, John Muir described dougies as “by far the most interesting and influential of the California Sciuridae”. Can’t argue with Muir.

How are they different from Gray Squirrels? First, according to Washington NatureMapping Program, dougies average 10.5 to 14 inches in length, but get this: that’s including their bushy tails that are 5 to 7 inches long! The body size of all other squirrels in Washington average eleven inches (excluding tail) according to UW Resident Squirrels website, or close to twice the size of dougies.

Dougie and fallen leaf

Look at the photo we’ve included, for scale, of the dougie next to a fallen leaf. And while we are on the subject of tails, we have included one photo that displays a dougie’s tail in all its splendor – looks like a bottle-washer brush, doesn’t it? It doesn’t appear soft and furry like their cousins’ tails.

Second, according to eMammal (Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute), grays and dougies differ dramatically in how they hoard. Gray Squirrels engage in scatter hoarding, burying their nuts in several places (and even fake burying nuts if a competitor is watching). They recover about 40 to 80% of their caches, says eMammal.

Dougies, however, do larder hoarding, concentrating their food in one spot. Though we have yet to find research on the issue (still looking!) one could imagine that scatter hoarding may be advantageous. If a competitor finds one of your many spots, little harm; but, if it raids your only cache, you are bankrupt! Foresters sometimes take dougie hoards to get seeds for replanting.

Bottle brush tail
Douglas’ Squirrel along with its similar but more widespread cousin, the American Red Squirrel, is being displaced by the Eastern Gray Squirrel, which was introduced to Washington in 1925 and has spread rapidly.

Professor Stephen Harris from the University of Bristol notes that Grey Squirrels are hardier than their red cousins and can live in a wider range of habitats, which gives them a significant advantage.

Douglas’ Squirrel is not endangered, according to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. It is however protected by law, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

By the way, do you know what a group of squirrels is called? A scurry, or a dray. Personally, we prefer a scurry – it’s alliterative and also sounds like their locomotive style.


Anonymous,  March 14, 2018 at 12:15 AM  

Our family has lived in Lake Forest Park for fifty five years. We didn't see any Douglas squirrels on our property until two years ago. They are agressive little guys. I have seen them chase away THREE Eastern grays from the feeder at the same time. They perch on the porch railing and keep the Grey's away for an hour at a time until they get tired of guarding the feeder and leave. They are brave little guys as they will stay on the feeder when I pass them as long as I talk to them as I go by. They do their best to store seeds one at a time in flower pots on the porch and can do this for hours at a time. They are very entertaining to watch. Jerry Pickard

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