Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Lots of shadowtail* activity

with 39 comments

Click for greater clarity.

Click for greater size and clarity.

I don’t know what’s going on, but for the last few days the squirrels that live around my house have been doing a lot more chasing around than usual, bounding in twos and threes through the Ashe juniper tree outside my window so fast that I can hardly follow them. From the tree they often jump the gap to my house, and then I hear the thud-thud-thud of their bodies as the squirrels go scampering across my roof. Could this be mating season?

I don’t have a picture of all that frenzied moving about—I’d have to enter the unfamiliar world of video to do it justice—but I do have a photograph from November 30th showing a calmer activity that I’ve also observed. From time to time a squirrel that’s not caught up in all the scampering, which is to say a solitary squirrel, catches a glimpse of me through the glass of the window and keeps staring as it tries to figure out what I am. Or maybe it knows what I am and just can’t take its eyes off such a handsome specimen of manhood. Yes, I’m sure that’s it.


* The English word squirrel ultimately traces back to the picturesque ancient Greek name for this animal, skiouros, which meant ‘shadow-tail.’ The scientific name for the fox squirrel is Sciurus niger, which two people have said they think this probably is. The similar eastern gray squirrel is Sciurus carolinensis.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 11, 2012 at 6:23 AM

39 Responses

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  1. I’m sure that’s it!!! You handsome devil, you!!!

    Agnes Plutino

    December 11, 2012 at 6:29 AM

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence, Agnes. You’re among the few people reading this blog who know what I look like, so your comment carries a lot of weight.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 11, 2012 at 7:42 AM

  2. Steve, I love this shot! Thanks for sharing..

    Renee Voss

    December 11, 2012 at 6:32 AM

  3. LOL!!!!!! Wow, you really caught me by surprise with those last two sentences, and I’m still laughing because you sound so much like my husband. That’s just the type of thing that comes out of his mouth all the time. Now I think you should post a picture of yourself so that your followers can be the judge of how true that statement is :)!!


    December 11, 2012 at 7:00 AM

    • By the way, that is a truly amazing photo of the squirrel!


      December 11, 2012 at 7:01 AM

      • Nothing like a laugh to get the morning started, right? I’ll have to admit that your husband secretly coached me on what to say. As for pictures, I’m content with having you see the one of the handsome (beautiful?) squirrel.

        Steve Schwartzman

        December 11, 2012 at 7:48 AM

    • I agree. ~L


      December 11, 2012 at 1:07 PM

  4. I’d vote for this being a young fox squirrel myself, but I’m no expert, and eastern gray or fox, it’s a fabulous photo. Every time I see a photo like this I miss my “Smackers”, the fox squirrel who was my pet for eight years.

    I think all that galumphing about is just friskiness. Mating season’s a little later – roughly January-March. These little guys love to play, and when they get going, it can be a sight to behold. During the first year, siblings will play together a lot, first in the nest and then out in the big, wide world. Maybe you’ve got a batch of teenagers who are feeling the joy of the colder weather!


    December 11, 2012 at 7:07 AM

    • I was so taken with the clear curiosity in the photo, I missed the Greek. “Shadow-tail” is perfect!


      December 11, 2012 at 7:10 AM

    • You may well be right about which kind of squirrel this is, because I’m not at all an expert. From what I read online, the fox squirrel is supposed to have a more auburn underside than the gray squirrel, but none of the pictures I took show the underside clearly enough for me to tell. Having had a pet squirrel for eight years, you’re probably more of an expert than you give yourself credit for.

      The galumphing, as you (and Lewis Carroll) put it, is indeed a sight to behold. The squirrels definitely acted youthful. So far this morning, though, it’s all quiet on the western (literally) front.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 11, 2012 at 8:01 AM

    • Someone else in Austin told me this morning that she thinks this is probably a fox squirrel, so in light of your two comments I’ve updated the post to reflect that.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 11, 2012 at 1:13 PM

  5. Around here they’re getting ready for what some say is going to be a harsh Winter, due to the heavy coats they have on. I think they’re just “nuts”.

    ken bello

    December 11, 2012 at 7:34 AM

  6. Can I send a few of my resident squirrels to your warmer environs? I’m a nature lover, but these critters have pushed me to get the best squirrel-proof bird feeders. And then I end up throwing them rinds of avocado or apple.


    December 11, 2012 at 8:01 AM

    • I’ve heard that squirrels can be a problem for people with bird feeders. We’ve already got plenty of squirrels here, so I suspect the good folks of Austin will politely decline your offer to send some more.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 11, 2012 at 12:39 PM

  7. Lovely post and comment thread. 🙂


    December 11, 2012 at 8:38 AM

  8. The squirrel photo is very good. Love the pose and the post. A change is good. Comments are enjoyable..


    December 11, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    • Although I feature primarily native plants, and especially wildflowers, I do vary the fare. Happy change of pace.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 11, 2012 at 12:46 PM

  9. Sooo niedlich 🙂


    December 11, 2012 at 9:38 AM

  10. Ha! – oh so cute:)


    December 11, 2012 at 10:37 AM

  11. The squirrels sure do like to look in the window at you and I think you’re right – how could they not stare at you, Mr. Handsome.

    I’d noticed similar activity with the squirrels chasing around here in VIrginia too. Over the weekend it sure looked to me like a mating ritual, but the cold is still coming. It’s not the right time but that’s sure how they’re acting. Of course with the leaves down, I can now see the many squirrel nests in our neighborhood. Where’s that darn hawk??




    December 11, 2012 at 11:30 AM

    • As cute as the squirrels are, your question about the hawk (thanks for the link) makes it seem that you’re in accord with Sally (see comment above) that squirrels can also be a nuisance. I’ll grant that they can be.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 11, 2012 at 1:02 PM

  12. Frisky, galumphing squirrels that hang out in 80 ft oaks become Sir Isaac Newton crash test squirrels if they are not careful. I have more than once seen them fall from those heights, and land like a cat, unharmed. They are resilient creatures! ~Lynda


    December 11, 2012 at 1:14 PM

    • The other day I saw one fall 10 or 15 ft. from a branch of the Ashe juniper to some smaller branches of an oak tree below, but that’s nothing compared to the 80 ft. you mentioned. Resilient indeed. I wish we were, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 11, 2012 at 1:17 PM

      • They do make a mighty loud thump. And yes, I too could use some of that resilience! ~L


        December 11, 2012 at 1:24 PM

  13. Il est super sympathique, cet écureuil!

    Anne Jutras

    December 11, 2012 at 5:06 PM

  14. I’m just fascinated.. what a great shot.. It would be nice if you could post some videos of their activity!


    December 11, 2012 at 5:59 PM

    • I’ve toyed around with the idea of video, and my camera can do it, so maybe one of these days I’ll experiment. It’s a whole different way of seeing, and I’d be starting from scratch.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 11, 2012 at 7:01 PM

  15. Really cute! Very few animals have an attitude even close to that of a squirrel. That’s probably a good thing.


    December 11, 2012 at 10:05 PM

  16. A beautiful squirrel !


    January 10, 2013 at 1:58 PM

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