Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Rock squirrel

with 31 comments

The squirrels that I normally and often see in Austin are fox squirrels. When I noticed one of a different type sitting on the rail of our deck one day recently, I quickly got my camera and attached my lens with the longest reach, 400mm. The animal, which appears to be a rock squirrel, Spermophilus variegatus, was facing partly away but I took one picture anyhow. When I tried opening the back door to get a better angle, the squirrel ran off. On October 21st I saw it on the rail again, this time in a little better position, and I managed to get the photograph shown here.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 28, 2018 at 4:42 AM

31 Responses

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  1. Cute shot, he looks like he got caught being sneaky!


    October 28, 2018 at 9:19 AM

    • I saw this squirrel again yesterday on the deck, from which it jumped up to the same place on the rail. Why it likes that spot, I don’t know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 28, 2018 at 9:50 AM

  2. Looks like you have a new resident. I’ve never even heard of this kind of squirrel. So nice to have something new arrive, isn’t it? This is a wonderful portrait.


    October 28, 2018 at 10:42 AM

  3. We just discovered this morning that Punkin is in search of nesting material. Forrest left his muck boots on the back porch and she was inside a boot tearing the insole out!! Ha ha! Generally in autumn and also in late spring, females look for material to line their nests. I keep a basket of various types of cloth, rope, torn up rug strips, old glove discards for the squirrels to use. I’ve even seen birds come to get material.

    Perhaps your railing is a good lookout point, or a spot to gain access to something else on your deck! Regardless, you could leave a nut or two out if you wish for this friend to return often! In no time you’ll be able to get the closer shots you’d like. They’re sure a lot of fun to watch and this one will be interesting to observe, in order to see differences in habit from the fox squirrel.


    October 28, 2018 at 12:13 PM

    • We had the same idea as you after we saw the squirrel for the first time and I didn’t get a good picture. I put a few walnut pieces on the rail to see if they’d serve as bait. The pieces were still there the next day but eventually disappeared; I can’t say if they went to this squirrel or one of the fox squirrels or to some other animal. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to put some more pieces out there and see what happens.

      I thought about the rail being a possible lookout, but then I figured that squirrels can climb much higher on any nearby tree they want to—unless this squirrel was looking at something specific for which the rail provided the best view.

      I’ve heard of people giving their old clothes to Goodwill or the Salvation Army but never to squirrels and birds. Maybe you’ll start a trend.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 28, 2018 at 1:25 PM

      • Try pecans. If you can find some natives, those would be even better. I’ve found that walnuts will be ignored even by bluejays — I suppose because they aren’t native around here.


        October 29, 2018 at 10:07 PM

        • We didn’t have any pecans in the house (and still don’t), which is why I went for walnuts. One thing that makes me wonder whether native food would make a difference is that on Long Island we often offered peanuts to the squirrels. I still remember how a squirrel would quickly turn one all the way around lengthwise in its mouth before biting open the shell to get at the peanuts inside.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 30, 2018 at 5:40 AM

  4. We have gray squirrels but had the fortune to see a flying squirrel one nite on our bird feeder


    October 28, 2018 at 8:13 PM

    • I’ve often seen squirrels jump from tree to tree but I’ve never seen a flying squirrel (which we really should call a gliding squirrel). I see that there are some 50 species of them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 28, 2018 at 9:18 PM

  5. He or she does not look happy about getting his or her picture taken.


    October 28, 2018 at 10:09 PM

    • I got the impression that this rock squirrel is more skittish than the usual fox squirrels.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2018 at 5:52 AM

  6. A new one for me, too!

    Robert Parker

    October 29, 2018 at 5:38 AM

  7. Handsome squirrel! Obviously looking for some mischief to get into.


    October 29, 2018 at 11:29 AM

    • Too bad you won’t see it get into any mischief up your way. The closest that species comes to Montana is Utah and Colorado.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2018 at 3:11 PM

  8. Outside Kerrville, the rock squirrels are relatively common in the limestone cliffs that surround the springs and creeks. They tend not to chatter like fox squirrels; their call is more like a sharp whistle. Now and then, we’d hear that call, and with a little looking could find the critters on the rock face. They’ll climb plants, too. A friend found one perched about halfway up a century plant stalk.


    October 29, 2018 at 10:05 PM

    • A squirrel halfway up a century plant stalk: it’s going on three-quarters of a century and I’ve never seen that from any kind of squirrel. As for noise, the rock squirrel we saw made none any of the times we saw it, so we never got to hear that whistling you mentioned. If I do hear any unfamiliar whistling, I’ll give a good look around.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 30, 2018 at 5:34 AM

  9. Ah made me smile … 🙂


    November 3, 2018 at 1:08 AM

  10. That is a very unique squirrel! It’s always special when creatures from the natural world deem us as ‘suitable neighbors’ — in time that squirrel will hopefully become a backyard mascot!

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    January 15, 2019 at 11:14 AM

    • Eve enjoys watching it on the railing. It hasn’t been there often enough, and it’s too skittish to qualify as a mascot.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 15, 2019 at 12:01 PM

  11. […] in the summer of 2019 we’d seen rock squirrels (Otospermophilus variegatus) on our back deck, especially on one section of the railing. As the year went by and we advanced into the spring of 2020 we didn’t see them any more. […]

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