Monday, December 12, 2011
| A gray squirrel adding leaf insulation to its winter shelter|
photo by Jonathan Schechter
The black squirrels of Oakland County are not some kind of rare species. As a matter of fact
there is no such species as a 'black squirrel'. Black squirrels are in fact a rather common
melanistic variation of our eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), the squirrel species that once dominated the great unbroken forests of New England and the Midwest. Some biologists
have claimed that nationwide about one of every 10,000 gray squirrels is black. I think that figure is way, way off. My guess, maybe 1 in 20 in Oakland County are black and litters are often mixed with black and gray siblings from the same mom. Being a black gray squirrel has a great advantage at the dawn of winter: Black fur absorbs heat during the sunny days of a cold winter. My observations seem to show black squirrels are more common in pockets of hardwoods that are biologic "islands" cut off from larger woodlands. And in winter with leaves down we see black squirrels more often than summer since this omniverous forest species flirts with the edge of suburbia and is more than eager to raid your bird feeder.