The Endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel

Endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel. Photo: Mary Shultz.

My friend Mary had a thrilling experience earlier this month when she spotted this Delmarva fox squirrel on her property on the eastern shore of Maryland.

Beautiful. Photo: Mary Shultz

You don’t know what a Delmarva fox squirrel is? Well, I didn’t either. In fact, not only had I never heard of Delmarva Fox squirrels, I had never heard of Delmarva until Mary called with her big news. The word incorporates the shorthand  for Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and refers to a large peninsula that runs along the eastern shore of the three states.

Delmarva Peninsula. Image: Worldatlas.com

The Delmarva Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus) is an endangered subspecies of fox squirrels (Sciurus niger). Its range once included southern portions of the border states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but it is now confined to Delmarva. So perhaps it’s not surprising that even though Mary grew up on the eastern shore of Maryland, she had never seen one. She described it as unmistakeable: huge (well, for a squirrel) and slower moving than Eastern gray squirrels, a pale silver in color with a lovely white belly, small ears and an enormous fluffy tail.  In fact, at three pounds and 30 inches long, Delmarva fox squirrels are easily twice the size of an average Eastern gray squirrel and a third larger than the Eastern fox squirrels I used to watch in Texas.

Delmarva Fox squirrel with an Eastern Gray squirrel. Photo: Mary Shultz.

Three pounds may not sound like much, but it makes for one hefty rodent.

The Delmarva Fox Squirrel is the biggest tree squirrel in North America.  Here’s the squirrel climbing up a large tree, its long tail pouring down behind.

Jumbo squirrel. Photo: Mary Shultz.

The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern shore has the largest native population of Delmarva fox squirrels. Here’s a video from Blackwater NWR of a gorgeous gray Delmarva Fox squirrel foraging for food. While it’s hard to get a sense of the size without another animal for comparison, you can clearly see the shape of the head, the stumpy ears and the long tail.  The squirrel also seems less twitchy than its smaller cousins, flowing quite gracefully over the ground.

Loss of habitat due to logging and development is the primary cause of population decline for the Delmarva squirrel, as it is for so many animals.

Nibbling. Photo: Mary Shultz.

Mary’s squirrel returned to the yard every day, sometimes twice a day, for a couple of weeks before disappearing. Mary and her husband also saw the squirrel feeding with a smaller Delmarva fox squirrel, leading them to suspect that she had been raising young nearby and that her companion was one of her babies.

Delmarva Fox Squirrel on the alert. Photo: Mary Shultz.

On a rainy day, the squirrel seemed to be using its tail as an umbrella, something I’ve read about but never seen.

Multi-purpose tail. Photo: Mary Shultz.

The squirrel hasn’t been spotted for some time now, and has probably moved on to a new foraging site. Hope she returns soon.

So long, pretty squirrel. Photo: Mary Shultz.

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8 Comments on “The Endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel”

  1. mthew Says:

    Assateague Island National Seashore is another spot to see them on the peninsula.

    And let’s not forget the red squirrel, T. hudsonicus.

  2. margot truini Says:

    What a cute little face…!


  3. What a beautiful squirrel the Delmarva Fox squirrel is. Your comment that it is larger than our Eastern gray squirrel awoke a foggy memory.
    I took a hiatus from NY to live in San Jose, California years ago and seem to remember that the squirrels there made our NY squirrels look scrawny. Do you know anything about California squirrels?


    • Yes, it is beautiful. I don’t know much about California squirrels, but a quick trip down the research lane indicates that your memory is correct: California’s Western Gray Squirrel is indeed bigger than its NY counterpart, the Eastern gray. I’ve also found research that in parts of California, the Eastern fox squirrel (a non-native species) has displaced the Western gray. Eastern Fox squirrels are also bigger than Eastern gray squirrels – although nowhere near the size of the Delmarva Fox squirrel. So either way, it seems that you are right about the size of California tree squirrels.

  4. retrieverman Says:

    I don’t know if you’ve seen the more common subspecies of fox squirrel. It’s not very hard to figure out how they got that name. The other subspecies aren’t endangered.


    • So sorry I didn’t reply sooner – your comments have been languishing in my spam folder. Yes, I lived in Dallas, Texas for 16 years where the most common squirrel is the Eastern Fox. Very pretty animal, and you’re right about the foxy look.


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