by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
Have you ever been sitting in a stand or wandering along in the woods and something caught your eye? You thought it was a fox but then it scaled a tree like a cat. Chances are you spotted a fox squirrel. Although larger than grey squirrels, the fox squirrel population is much smaller than the grey squirrel population in Alabama. Among other things, this organism is greatly affected by habitat type and habitat management.
The fox squirrel, or Sciurus niger, is a much larger specimen of squirrel. Compared to grey squirrels that weigh barely a pound, fox squirrels are much larger, weighing in at two to three pounds. Their faces are usually black or dark grey and their bodies are some shade of red or light grey. The large, bushy red tail gives the illusion of a fox running along the ground. But few sightings have been reported lately. This is because our forest types are no longer conducive to the fox squirrel. This animal prefers park like understories where it can see a long way. Our tightly packed pines and poorly managed hardwoods deter fox squirrels. The reduction in longleaf pines across Alabama has also forced the fox squirrel to colonize new areas, which it does quite easily. So how can you manage for the fox squirrel? You can start by frequent prescribed burns. This will keep your understory clean and provide that “park” like understory. It is also important to keep the over story thin. The thin over story will allow light to hit the forest floor (while also providing vegetation), but the fire will keep the understory from becoming too thick. For example, thin the canopy every 5-10 years and burn your understory every 2-3 years. This management will encourage fox squirrels to inhabit your area, even if it is at a low density. Like the grey squirrel, they are opportunistic feeders and will feast on seeds and berries and vegetation, or whatever is available. Most fox squirrels will build dreys, or large, leafy nests in trees, but some will also create cavities in mature trees.
If you would like to see more fox squirrels, follow these simple guidelines on your property. Open understory, mature hardwoods, and frequent burns are most conducive for raising a small population of fox squirrels! This management plan is also suitable for turkeys as well (two birds, one stone). So, if you too enjoy being at a park, turn your land into one and see what other organisms enjoy the park too!
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