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What Colour are Your Grey Squirrels?

While Eastern Grey (or Gray) Squirrels are typically a medium grey, with white fronts, (Wikipedia: Eastern gray squirrel ), not all are.

In Southern Ontario, most squirrels are black (about 8 out of 10, by my estimate). Some are a solid grey (medium grey like their white-fronted cousins, or a darker grey). I have also seen black ones with white patches on the back or on the tail, and a black one with a brown tail. These multicoloured ones are rare. There are white-fronted grey squirrels with white on their ears. There are also all-white squirrels in Toronto (probably albinos) and all-white but not albino squirrels in Exeter Ontario. See Eastern Grey Squirrel for a nice description of some of the possibilites, and Wikipedia: Black Squirrel, especially the Discussion page, for the range of information and mis-information that this subject can generate.

Distribution

The distribution of black squirrels extends across southern Ontario (stopping on the north along the edge of the Laurentian shield, e.g. Algonquin Park, where apparently there are no grey squirrels of any colour, although there are chipmunks and red squirrels). I have seen black squirrels in upstate New York, but not in Quebec (Montreal in particular) and not in New York City. Beyond this area, there are reports of black squirrels in Michigan and states south and west of there. (For example, see Scienceray.com). Some of these reports may be about a different species (e.g. Fox squirrels; they are sometimes described as "large"). Generally, the more distant reports see the black squirrels as something surprising. There are also reports of squirrels being sent from Ontario to Washington DC, Battle Creek Michigan, Calgary Alberta, Vancouver British Columbia and England, where apparently they are now thriving in the wild.

History

I have found a reference to black squirrels in an ethnography of the Hurons (Bruce G. Trigger.1969. The Huron. Farmers of the North. Holt, Rinehart, Winston. p 36. "The Huron obtained black squirrel skins from the Neutral to manufacture cloaks that were much prized by the Algonkians and probably by themselves.") The Neutral, Trigger reports, lived and hunted in the area north of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. He worked with reports from French traders and missionaries living in the area between 1600 and 1650. So, it seems the black squirrels have been in the area for several centuries.

Ernest Hemingway wrote about black squirrels circa 1924 in The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife ("I know where there's black squirrels, Daddy," Nick said. "All right," said his father. "Let's go there." [link to source]). Hemingway was working and writing in Toronto at the time, and may have drawn on local experiences for his reference to black squirrels. (Thanks to commentor Tom Brown, via R.J. Evans, for the lead).

Black "Grey Squirrel"

Grey (no white front) and dark grey or black

Black with brown tail

White (albino) "Grey Squirrel"

White (non-albino) "Grey Squirrel"
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