A publication of Appalachian Voices

A publication of Appalachian Voices


Fox Squirrels Making a Comeback in N.C.

By Madison Hinshaw

If you’ve ever seen what you thought was a gray squirrel on steroids, what you actually saw was most likely a fox squirrel.

While this bushy-tailed, colossal squirrel is common throughout most of Appalachia, it has not been seen in the North Carolina mountains in several decades. But now these furry creatures are on a path to making an incredible comeback in the northwestern region of the state.

Already abundant in Virginia and further north, data provided by hunters in North Carolina counties — including Ashe, Alleghany and Watauga — during the last several years shows that more and more fox squirrels are expanding into areas of the state near the Virginia border, says Chris Kreh, district wildlife biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

While fox squirrels can sometimes resemble gray squirrels in coloration, there are noticeable differences. In eastern regions such as the Appalachians, the squirrels can sport more of a reddish coat than gray squirrels, with dark brown and even black faces and backs. The most distinguishable have striking while patches on the nose, feet and tail. Photos credit: Jeffrey S. Pippen

“The $64,000 question is why they are migrating to these counties,” says Kreh. “But the bigger question is why they weren’t there historically.”

Kreh says that changes to the forests in the northwest part of North Carolina in the last decades could be the reason that the picture is different now than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Because they do not have the agility of the gray squirrel, fox squirrels prefer less-dense forests, including those of the Appalachian Mountains thinned by human activity since the 1800s.

Adult fox squirrels are much larger than the gray squirrel. They are typically about 20 to 26 inches long and can weigh one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half pounds. Abundant throughout much of the U.S., the fox squirrel has two main subspecies: the Midwestern and the Southeastern. The Southeastern subspecies are dark and sometimes almost black in color, while the Midwestern fox squirrel has a wide variety of looks including red, blonde, brown and even orangish, and sport dark faces or backs and sometimes even a striking white face, tail and feet.

Habitats of the two subspecies of fox squirrel are also different. The Southeastern fox squirrel prefers less-dense, long-leaf pine forests found in the Piedmont and coastal plains of Eastern North Carolina. Using their greater size and strength, they are able to manipulate the large longleaf pine cones and thrive in the state’s longleaf pine forests.

The subspecies of fox squirrel that is migrating into the mountains of North Carolina, however, is more likely the Midwestern fox squirrel. Unlike their eastern cousins that are more at home in longleaf pines, the Midwestern subspecies prefers hardwood forests with open canopies — commonly found in the Appalachian mountain landscape.

The Midwestern fox squirrel is expanding its ranges on the border of Virginia and North Carolina. Fox squirrel populations are abundant in Carroll and Grayson counties in Virginia, and those numbers are starting to trickle down into some counties in North Carolina, such as Ashe, Alleghany and Watauga.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission gets most of its data from sportsmen’s reports, including live observations, road kill finds and photos. They also have a system for logging and reporting wildlife, which helps create a census on the population of the fox squirrel.

According to Kreh, the more open forests adjacent to human development suit the fox squirrel more than the gray squirrel, adding to the expansion. Property owners in those counties can assist the fox squirrel’s transition by planting walnut trees and other hardwoods.

Kreh also mentioned that, as the Midwestern subspecies expands south and eastward, their frisky cousin from the east is venturing westward, setting the stage for what could be a intriguing future for the fox squirrel.

“When you have the rapidly expanding numbers in this part of the state, and the expanding populations of the Southeastern variety in the eastern part of the state, they are going to meet in the middle,” Kreh says. “It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when they do meet.”

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  1. mark norman says:

    i saw a lone fox squirrel this morning cross the road in craven county,also saw 2 about a year ago midway between little washington and new bern,its exciting,only seen 3 in my 40 plus years in the area

  2. Lynn McCormick says:

    I spotted a fox squirrel on 8/25/2013 on the hiking trail at Alice Keene park in Greenville, nc today. He was a sight to behold! I’ve been walking that trail for five years and that’s the first time I’ve seen a fox squirrel.

  3. Jane says:

    We live in Apex have 2 bird feeders that bring the usual gray squirrels. About two weeks ago a bigger brownish squirrel appeared with a large bare spot on his head. Looked like it scraped it’s head or been in a fight. A big chunk of fur on top of was missing. We wondered if it’d been attacked or if it had mange (?) He’s become a regular and the fur has grown in and it’s black. His tail is also a mixture of black and silver. Even though it is the biggest squirrel to come in our yard, it is chased away and intimidated by the most aggressive of the smaller squirrels. Can you tell me if these squirrels interbreed because this one has a white stomach but size and markings seem to indicate it’s a fox. Several years ago I saw a black fox squirrel in the woods at Old Brunswick Town right at the Cape Fear River near Southport. It was marked with white and, at first thought I was seeing some type of weird skunk.

  4. Patty says:

    We have been seeing a number of different Fox Squirrels in our yard this month and last month in Cumberland County. Just this morning (11/11/13) I took many pictures of at least two in varying shades of black with some white on face, ears, feet and/or tail. I saw two that were small with very shiny black tails and bodies. Then another larger (or two) smokey colored bodies with long black tails.

  5. Brian says:

    Surprised to see a newcomer this afternoon among the usual grey squirrel visitors. A quick internet search showed this one to be without any question or doubt a Fox Squirrel. First time ever witnessed at this location in Boone.

  6. Jamie Goodman says:

    That’s super exciting, Brian, I have seen a couple in West Jefferson but you are the first report of one in Boone. What side of that town?

  7. stephen frame says:

    Spotted a black one this morning on camp lejeune. Beautiful sight. He didn’t even run he sat there for a good while wish I would have had a camera.

  8. Brian says:

    Jamie, East of Boone. It showed up again today.

  9. Daishawn says:

    I’ve seen a few of these in my yard in Princeton, NC. Glad I found this site to explain to me what they are- at first they seemed scary because of they’re size. Its neat knowing now that these are kind of rare and I get to see them almost every day!

  10. Erskine says:

    Just saw one over the weekend in a field adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Alleghany County around MM232 – a first for me!

  11. Saw a midwestern fox squirrel in Stokes County last week just east of the town of King.

  12. Emmett Westbrook says:

    I saw one yesterday in a field adjacent to a tree farm just outside Vanceboro

  13. Pop's Giles says:

    We seen a fox squirrel first time ever in Bentonville NC on 3/4/2014 awesome

  14. Kyle Dalton says:

    I saw a grey colored fox squirrel with a dark head and a white nose patch and a rusty brown colored tail run across the road north of Danbury in Stokes co.Was so surprised.

  15. jamie says:

    Ahh, near Hanging Rock park? Aren’t they unusual! Fox squirrels really stand out, especially their coloring (not to mention size, like squirrels on steroids). I saw several at Natural Tunnel State Park near Duffield, Va., last year. Let us know if you see more in your area!

  16. Jerry says:

    Saw a blacked faced, red tailed squirrel around Greenville ga. (Middle ga)

  17. MiniCooper says:

    A fox squirrel with a white patch on the face has been hanging around the suburbs of Columbia, South Carolina since April 2015. It has been in my yard eating birdseed – I live in northeast Richland County.

  18. Neena says:

    I have been in Grimesland, NC about a year and spotted these beautiful
    Fox Squirrels right away in my yard.

  19. Dorothy Walters says:

    Alleghany Co. NC, 10 m. west of Sparta about 3/4 m. up mountain off Rt 221S in Stratford area. Saw a fox squirrel with black face, legs and underbody completely black. Wow! Dottie

  20. Anthony says:

    Just had my first encounter with a fox squirrel in Oliver GA. Me and my wife just happened to look out the window and see him. At first we were wondering what in the world it was. He was actually kind of brave, he wouldn’t run very far and he would just stare at us, then he decided to come back down the tree. I assumed he might have had rabies so I didn’t take any chances and went back into the house.

  21. Betsy Tyner says:

    Pinehurst, NC- We have a fox squirrel in the small wooded area beside our neighborhood. See him/her almost every afternoon. This is the first white faced squirrel I have ever seen.

  22. Lucy says:

    We have a small place on the side of a hill in Floyd County Virginia. We have seen one Fox Squirrel and feed a small Gray and a smaller Red Squirrel at corn and bird feeders.

  23. Nae says:

    We have enjoyed visits spring and fall from the black fox squirrel with white nose here in our back yard in Sunset beach, NC. Today saw a more unusual “squirrel” Had to research what exactly it was. Sitting in my screened in porch, a friend and I were talking and what surprised us the most, it not only wasn’t afraid of us, but actually hopped closer and stared at us! Then turned around an jumped horizontally about 10′ to a tree! The tail was so long, so fluffy…(for lack of a better word), gray with darker shapes. The nose was white, black around it, the body gray, shades of rust towards the back legs. It was much larger than the black fox squirrel, especially the circumference of the tail. We were SO ENTHRALLED, we didn’t think to take a picture of it until it was up in the tree! So the picture is poor quality but interesting enough to share with our grandchildren!

  24. Bob R says:

    We spotted one yesterday on Buck Mountain Rd in West Jefferson. We saw it running in a farm pasture and were confused by its size and slight brownish color. We got a closer look and saw the white spotted nose. Your information helped confirm that we saw our first fox squirrel.

  25. Debbie Harback says:

    I saw a fox squirrel here in Boones Creek, Tn today.(Washington county). We live in the country and on my way home from doing some errands and he crossed the road, almost. He stopped and looked at me in my truck which was stopped. I just was shocked and before I knew it he went back across where he came from. Awesome to see him. What was most striking was the white nose. Has was a little bigger than the gray ones. Hope I see him again. (Alive).

  26. Kathy Radcliff says:

    Saw two white faced black fox squirrels feeding on pinecone nuts on the Brunswick Community College grounds in Bolivia, NC. I’d seen one several times before in the same place.

  27. G.D.Dunn says:

    I saw a grey phase black headed fox squirrel cross highway 13 midway between I95 and Newton Grove,N.C.The date was 04-22-18.

  28. John P. Brown says:

    We saw one yesterday, May 1, 2018, in southeastern Cumberland county. Driving on a dirt road with trees on both sides. Large, mostly dark, white patch on face, and a long, bushy tail. It had just crossed the road, paused to look at us, before scampering off into the woods.

  29. Loyce Horan says:

    One comes to eat sunflower seeds under our bird feeder in Crumpler, NC

  30. Timothy Page says:

    June 14 2018 watched a pair for a few minutes behind house Moneta Virginia 12 noon.One very red the other lots of gray and black with white face.Been years since I have seen any.

  31. Sam says:

    Saw a very big squirrel today at my bird feeder. Red tint color, bushy tailed with white around it mouth and black marking on body. Google said it was a fox squirrel. I have seen them in other parts on the country but never in Wilkes County,NC

  32. forrest says:

    I saw a fox squirrel for the very first time today, being a native low country South
    Carolinian just retired to ten acres just outside Monroe, NC (Union County).
    Really enjoyed watching him or her with the white face and black markings, actually a lot of black, bigger tail and bigger in general.
    Was casually walking across our side yard, not scurrying like the typical gray squirrel, and apparently unafraid at the approach of our car up the driveway. We have a lot of pines on our tract and and there are only seven houses back in our 200 acre neighborhood, so hopefully the fox squirrel will be a resident. Really fun and interesting to watch something so different, yet so clearly a squirrel after all gray for so many years.

  33. oran benson says:

    I saw a fox squirrel by a hedge row near Pantego nc. The squirrel was feeding on corn spilled during harvest.I was in my truck and drove within 15ft. of the squirrel.The colors were very clear and squirrel appeared to be 18-22in. tall,sitting on hind legs.

  34. Philip Schoenauer says:

    Looking at one now in south Carolina at fort Jackson

  35. Madeleine says:

    Have a Fox squirrel at our Lansimg. NC home

  36. Karen Potter says:

    Saw one in a new place today. Pretty neat! Grayson County- Mouth of Wilson, VA

  37. Kate says:

    These squirrels are in Alabama as well.

  38. John says:

    I saw Fox Squirel ………….12-19-2018 in my woods back yard Monroe, Union County NC

  39. Rob says:

    We’ve had fox squirrels entertain us for 6 yrs here in Calabash. This year there is not one! What happened to them? In their place are grey squirrels.

  40. Tammy says:

    I saw a fox squirrel in a tree in my yard, Charlotte, NC. Blond color, more than two times bigger than the gray squirrel. I thought I was hallucinating!

  41. Lisa Feutz says:

    Saw a Fox Squirrel and baby on Brown MTB Trail at Smith Lake, Ft. Liberty (Bragg), NC while running today, 8/19/23. I had never seen one before. It was 2 feet from me, completely unafraid, very large, lots of white and black, foraging on th ground , while baby squirrel lay flat on branch above.

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