As autumn descends on us, the slow baring of the trees opens a window to the activities of some of the most common and fascinating wild mammals of North America. (See the tree squirrel illustrations in the image gallery.)
Among both hunters and amateur naturalists, the squirrels (family Sciuridae) make up one of the most popular groups of wild creatures on this continent. These little animals are highly adaptable, and most species have proven able to survive, and even thrive, in areas where human destruction of habitat has long since eliminated less opportunistic mammals. They can be seen dancing limb to limb in city parks and on wilderness hillsides from coast to coast, and-being a very diverse bunch include not only the tree squirrels, but also such seemingly dissimilar animals as chipmunks, woodchucks, flying squirrels, prairie dogs, marmots, and ground squirrels.
Still, to most of us, squirrel means one of the bushy-tailed tree dwellers. (In fact, the family name translates as "shade tail," a reference to the arboreal species' habit of curling their tails over their backs.) These are the squirrels most commonly admired by students of nature and most often transformed into tasty meals by hunters.
Whether your chosen activity is observation or pursuit, your success and satisfaction will be increased if you take the time to learn about your quarry through this field guide to the tree squirrel. So, to add to the fun you'll find in squirrel watching or hunting, we've prepared the following guide to the more common tree squirrels of North America.