The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has received its first reported sighting of an Eastern fox squirrel in Blaine County.
Dan Casali, a resident of Cold Springs subdivision south of Ketchum, reported the sighting to the “Share your observations” section of the department’s website on March 24. The species has been reported on the site in five other counties in Idaho, all in the southern part of the state.
The fox squirrel, a native of the eastern U.S., is the largest species of tree squirrel native to North America. Weighing about two pounds, it’s about four times the size of the American red squirrel, the only tree squirrel other than flying squirrels native to the Wood River Valley.
Matthew Brady, a biology professor at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston who is conducting a study of the fox squirrel’s distribution in the Idaho panhandle and southeastern Washington, said that even though this is the first reported sighting in Blaine County, the species has probably existed in the area for at least a decade.
“The fox squirrel is way more widely spread than is currently known,” Brady said.
He said the squirrels have been introduced into numerous urban areas in the West, including to Boise in 1917, and have spread from those places.
Brady said the fox squirrel is a more generalist feeder than the red squirrel, which relies on seeds from the cones of conifer trees.
According to Wikipedia, fox squirrels are tolerant of human proximity, and even thrive in crowded urban and suburban environments, where they exploit human habitations for sources of food and nesting sites. Ideal natural habitat is small stands of large trees interspersed with agricultural land.
Brady said fox squirrels have not posed a threat to red squirrels.
“So far, the fox squirrels are restricted to urban areas and a few agricultural areas; without a constant supply of nut trees (e.g., walnut, elm, etc.) they won’t be able to establish themselves outside of these areas,” he stated in an email. “But we can never say never. We really do not know a lot about these introduced populations.”