California Ground Squirrel
Spermophilus beecheyi
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Painting by Todd Zalewski from Kays and Wilson's Mammals of North America, © Princeton University Press (2002)


California ground squirrels have mottled fur, with gray, light and dark brown, and white present in their pelage. They typically have a darker mantle. The shoulders, neck and sides of this species are a lighter gray. The bushy tail is a combination of the colors that appear on the back. The underside is a lighter combination of light brown, gray and white. California ground squirrels have a white ring around each eye.

Range: 330 to 508 mm
Range: 280 to 738 g
Range Map
Taxonomic Hierarchy


The California ground squirrel can be found in south central Oregon, western Washington and most parts of California.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
    Subclass: Theria
        Infraclass: Eutheria
Order: Rodentia
    Suborder: Sciuromorpha
Family: Sciuridae
    Subfamily: Sciurinae
Genus: Spermophilus
Species: Spermophilus beecheyi
Reproduction & Life Cycle

Females of this species are considered promiscuous. They will often mate with more than one male, either through force or selectivity, and therefore the offspring of a single litter may have multiple paternity. Males may also mate with several females. (Boellstorff et al., 1994)

The mating season of Spermophilus beecheyi occurs in early spring, typically for a few weeks only. As with most ground-dwelling squirrels, breeding occurs just after the animals emerge from their winter burrows. This is highly dependent on the area and climate the squirrel inhabits, since the timing of hibernation varies geographically, with elevation, and with other ecological factors.

Males possess abdominal testes which drop into a temporary scrotum during the breeding season only.

Females produce one litter per year after of a gestation period of roughly one month. Litters range in size from five to eleven young. The sex ratio of young are about 1:1.

Young Spermophilus beecheyi may open their eyes at around 5 weeks of age. They first leave burrows at 5 to 8 weeks of age, and are wenaed between 6 and 8 weeks. The coloring of the young is somewhat lighter than that of adults. Molting for young begins a few weeks after they emerge from their burrows. Young may begin to burrow at 8 weeks of age. They reach sexual maturity no sooner than 1 year old. In the first year of life, some ground squirrels remain above ground and do not hibernate. (Cato, 2003; Evans and Holdenried, 1943; Whitaker and Jr., 1980)

The only active parenting is provided by the mother. Females give birth to their pups in a burrow, and will move young into new burrows frequently to avoid predation. Young are helpless at birth, and their eyes do not open until they are about 5 weeks old. Shortly after their eyes open, the young pups leave the burrow and begin to explore their surroundings. (Alden et al., 1998; Boellstorff et al., 1994; Evans and Holdenried, 1943; Whitaker and Jr., 1980)

Conservation Status

There are no special conservation practices currently for Spermophilus beecheyi. Some control of their numbers has been attempted, costing several hundred thousand dollars. These are generally targeted responses to crop damage or disease outbreaks. (Boellstorff et al., 1994; MacClintock, 1970)


Spermophilus beecheyi has successfully exploited many habitat types. California ground squirrels are terrestrial, and semifossorial, requiring habitats with some loose soil where they can excavate an appropriate burrow.

You may find them colonizing fields, pastures, grasslands and in open areas such as oak woodlands. The only habitat they do not use is deserts. You may find them down in valleys and up on rocky outcrops in the mountains, to an elevation of 2,200 m. They can be found in urban, suburban and agricultural areas. By and large this species is widely distributed within its range. (Evans and Holdenried, 1943; MacClintock, 1970; Whitaker and Jr., 1980)


California ground squirrels live in burrow systems that can house many generations, forming a sort of colony. Each individual has an entrance of their own. They tend to stay within 150 yards of their burrow system and retreat, usually only to their entrance of that burrow system. They frequently spend time sunning themselves. Depending on the climate, they may hibernate, or aestivate to escape undesirable temperatures. Males are more aggressive than females and sometimes appear territorial.

Burrows are made under a tree, log or rock.

The California ground squirrel is diurnal, that means it is most active in the daytime.


California ground squirrels use cheek pouches while they are foraging to collect more food than would otherwise be possible in one sitting. They are also known to cache or store food. They exploit a variety of food sources, which probably contributes to their success as a species.

The diet of these animals, as their genus name would suggest, is primarily seed-based. California ground squirrels consume seeds, barley, oats, and acorns (Quercus): valley oak, blue oak, coast oak). They also eat fruits, like gooseberries and pears, and quail (Callipepla) eggs. They include insects in their diets when they are available, and have been known to eat grasshoppers, crickets, beetles and caterpillars. They also eat roots, bulbs, and fungi, such as mushrooms. (Linsdale, 1946; MacClintock, 1970; Whitaker and Jr., 1980)

Other Names


  • Beechey's ground squirrel (English)
  • California ground squirrel (English)
  • Ardillón de California (Spanish)
  • California ground squirrel (Unknown)
  • Californian Ground Squirrel (Unknown)

California ground squirrels use a variety of sounds, tail signals and scent production as means of communication. For example, glandular folds anterior to the tail region are used for individual identification. When finding a mate or mates, females may approach or males may approach, but scent cues are important in identifying reproductive condition. (Evans and Holdenried, 1943; Linsdale, 1946)

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Sources used to Construct this Page:

Encyclopedia of Life

Animal Diversity Web

  • Alden, P., F. Heath, R. Keen, A. Leventer, W. Zomlefer. 1998. National Audubon society field guide to California. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Ingles, L. 1947. Mammals of the Pacific States. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
  • Linsdale, J. 1946. The California ground squirrel. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California press.
  • MacClintock, D. 1970. Squirrels of North America. New York and Toronto: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.
  • Whitaker, Jr., J. 1980. National Audubon society field guide to North American mammals. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Boellstorff, D., D. Owings, M. Penedo, M. Hersek. 1994. Reproductive behaviour and multiple paternity of California ground squirrels. Animal Behaviour, 47(5): 1057-1064.
  • Cato, F. 2003. "San Diego Natural history Museum Field Guide: Spermophilus beecheyi" (On-line). Accessed June 17, 2003 at .
  • Evans, F., R. Holdenried. 1943. A population study of the Beechey ground squirrel in Central California. Journal of Mammalogy, 24(2): 231-260.

Additional Photos & Video

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California Ground Squirrel Chirping

All photos © 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.

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