Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Rock squirrels

with 38 comments

In June and July we became aware of not one, not two, not three, but four rock squirrels (Otospermophilus variegatus) frequenting our back yard. The place they most like to sit is on the railing of our deck, as shown here in a picture from July 11th.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 14, 2019 at 4:45 AM

38 Responses

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  1. If they get under the house foundation you will have problems.


    August 14, 2019 at 5:06 AM

    • Our house sits on what seems like a pretty thick concrete slab. Could a squirrels’ burrow beneath it still cause a problem?

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2019 at 5:15 AM

  2. I had to look this up, I hadn’t heard of this variety before. And until this moment, I hadn’t realized “groundhogs,” which are plentiful in NY, were a type of ground squirrel, I’m guessing the más gordito of the lot – – but it looks like they don’t venture into Texas? The squirrel in your photo has a certain furtive air about it, or maybe just trying to get a better look at your camera.

    Robert Parker

    August 14, 2019 at 8:02 AM

    • These aren’t nearly as common as the fox squirrels that abound here.

      You seem to be mostly right about the groundhog being the más gordito of the lot. I found this in Wikipedia: “The groundhog is by and large the largest sciurid in its geographical range, excepting British Columbia where its range may abut that of its somewhat larger cousin, the hoary marmot.” You’re also right that groundhogs don’t make it into Texas, though they come close in southeastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas.

      As for the squirrel trying to get a better look at the camera, probably not. I took my pictures from inside the house, shooting through the glass of a window with a 400mm lens. The squirrel didn’t seem aware of me at all. In contrast, whenever I slowly opened the back door to try for a better angle—I tried that several times during squirrel sightings—the squirrel immediately took off.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2019 at 9:03 AM

  3. I’ve never seen those here. In fact, I’ve never known about that variety at all.


    August 14, 2019 at 8:16 AM

    • I became aware of them some years ago. The range map at

      leads me to think you might see a rock squirrel in Fredericksburg.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2019 at 9:07 AM

      • I’ll have to be on the lookout, then.


        August 14, 2019 at 9:11 AM

  4. You need a beagle.

    Jason Frels

    August 14, 2019 at 8:35 AM

    • I’m much more likely to get a bagel.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2019 at 8:50 AM

      • Yes, but a beagle will dig up the yard, kill a mole or two, and make it look like the moon surface by the time they’re done!


        August 14, 2019 at 9:22 PM

        • True enough. Still, unlike for a beagle, the only “maintenance” a human needs to provide for a bagel is chewing.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 15, 2019 at 6:30 AM

  5. Yeah, or a terrier. My little westie is fierce with tree squirrels…he’d be a wonder with ground ones. This guy does look furtive.


    August 14, 2019 at 8:51 AM

    • I read somewhere that rock squirrels can climb trees, even if they generally stay on or near the ground. Interesting that both you and Robert sense furtiveness.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2019 at 9:12 AM

      • Yes, I noticed that too. To me that squirrel has a definite shifty look to him.


        August 14, 2019 at 10:17 PM

        • Actually all the shiftiness was mine as I shifted from window to window looking for the best angle to take pictures.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 15, 2019 at 6:32 AM

          • Oh yes, I can just hear the squirrels discussing you. “That Steve~he’s a shifty one!”


            August 16, 2019 at 8:20 AM

            • Since these are squirrels at the home of someone interested in language, they’re also likely to point out that while the noun shift has survived in modern English, the Old English verb it came from has not. That was sciftan, which meant ‘to arrange, divide.’

              Steve Schwartzman

              August 16, 2019 at 8:38 AM

  6. This looks like a well-fed rock squirrel, Steve (they usually do, and some of the appearance might be linked to the fluffing of their fur). Their vocalizations have fooled me into mistaking them for birds!


    August 14, 2019 at 4:25 PM

  7. very handsome.


    August 14, 2019 at 9:00 PM

  8. It’s a good looking little dude!



    August 14, 2019 at 9:23 PM

  9. He’s quite the looker. We have our share of cute rodents…grey (and their black cousins) squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, a variety of mice, voles and moles, and the occasional wandering barn rat. Bentley gets pretty excited about them but we keep him on a leash so they all coexist.

    Steve Gingold

    August 15, 2019 at 2:46 AM

  10. Great post 🙂

    the #1 Itinerary

    August 15, 2019 at 5:54 AM

  11. The first time I saw these was at the cabin outside Kerrville. They roamed the limestone cliffs there fairly regularly. They weren’t always the easiest things to spot, because their color blended in with the rocks and woods, and I never got such a good look at them as you did here. Eventually, I figured out that some of the chirping I heard wasn’t birds, but the squirrels, and locating them got at least a little easier.


    August 16, 2019 at 6:12 AM

    • When it comes to spotting rock squirrels, our deck railing offers advantages of color and separation from other objects. I’d prefer portraits of squirrels without any human accoutrements, but I take what I get. As you noticed, you’re the second person to comment about initially thinking the squirrels’ vocalizations came from birds. For whatever reason, the rock squirrels in our yard have remained almost completely silent.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 16, 2019 at 6:20 AM

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