California Ground Squirrel

California Ground Squirrel

Beechey ground squirrel

Otospermophilus beecheyi
Population size
Life Span
6-10 years
g oz 
cm inch 

The California ground squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi) is a common ground squirrel of the western United States and the Baja California Peninsula. It was named after Frederick William Beechey, an early 19th-century British explorer and naval officer. California ground squirrels readily become tame in areas used by humans, and quickly learn to take food left or offered by picnickers, however, they prefer to spend most of their time near their burrows and rarely go far from them.


The upper parts of these squirrels are mottled, with the fur containing a mixture of gray, light brown and dusky hairs. The shoulders, neck and sides are a lighter gray. The fur around the eyes is whitish. The underside is lighter, buff or grayish yellow. The tail is relatively bushy for a ground squirrel, and at a quick glance, this species might be mistaken for a Fox squirrel.




California ground squirrels are found in the western United States and the Baja California Peninsula (northwestern Mexico). They are common in Oregon and California and their range has recently extended into Washington and northwestern Nevada. California ground squirrels inhabit farmlands, fields, chaparral, pastures, and open grassy areas.

California Ground Squirrel habitat map

Climate zones

California Ground Squirrel habitat map

Habits and Lifestyle

California ground squirrels are social creatures that live in burrows which they excavate themselves. Some burrows are occupied communally but each individual squirrel has its own entrance. Although they readily become tame in areas used by humans, and quickly learn to take food left or offered by picnickers, they spend most of their time within 25 m (82 ft) of their burrow and rarely go further than 50 m (160 ft) from it. California ground squirrels are diurnal being active during the day. They like to spend time sunning on warm days. During foraging, they use cheek pouches to collect more food than they could eat in one sitting and store food to consume later. In the colder parts of their range, California ground squirrels hibernate for several months, but in areas where winters have no snow, most squirrels are active year-round. In those parts where the summers are hot, they may also estivate for periods of a few days. These squirrels use different sounds, tail signals, and scent production in order to communicate with one another.

Diet and Nutrition

California ground squirrels are considered to be mostly herbivores. Most of their diet includes seeds, grains, nuts, fruits, and sometimes roots.

Mating Habits

early spring
1 months
1 month
5-11 pups
pup, kit, kitten

California ground squirrels have a polygynandrous (promiscuous) mating system. This means that both males and females in this species have multiple mates during the breeding time. The mating season takes place in early spring and lasts only for a few weeks. Females give birth to one litter per year consisting of 5 to 11 babies. The gestation period lasts around one month. The young are born helpless and open their eyes at about 5 weeks of age. In order to avoid predation mothers often move their young to new burrows. Pups start to emerge from burrows at around 8 weeks of age and become weaned between 6-8 weeks. The coloration of the young is slightly lighter than the adults and they start to molt at about 8 weeks of age. California ground squirrels reach reproductive maturity after one year old.


Population threats

There are no major threats to California ground squirrels at present.

Population number

According to IUCN, the California ground squirrel is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Ecological niche

California ground squirrels play an important role in the ecosystem they live in. They act as seed dispersals when hiding their food and then forget about it. These squirrels help soil aeration due to their habit of digging burrows and also create habitat for other rodents and snakes, which use them as shelters.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • California ground squirrels are frequently preyed on by rattlesnakes and thus use a variety of techniques to reduce snakes’ predation. Female squirrels with pups chew on the skins shed by rattlesnakes and then lick themselves and their pups (that are never resistant to venom before one month of age) to disguise their scent.
  • Another strategy is for a California ground squirrel to super-heat and swish around its tail. The swishing of the tail from side to side is called tail-waving, which helps the squirrel to deter a snake attack. California ground squirrels also can use their tail-waving to signal to other ground squirrels in the area that a rattlesnake or other predator has recently been spotted.
  • Vigilant behavior in California ground squirrels is also a defense mechanism to avoid predation. In addition to the tail-waving, the squirrels may be more vigilant and on alert if a predator had recently been in the area. In an area where the rattlesnakes have recently been, ground squirrels will devote more time to being alert and searching for the predators than to hunting and foraging.


1. California Ground Squirrel on Wikipedia -
2. California Ground Squirrel on The IUCN Red List site -

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