Squirrels in High Park

The Eastern Grey Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis, is very common in High Park, since an important feature for this species is the presence of large canopy trees, such as oaks, which provide food and den sites.

Eastern Grey Squirrel. Photo: Tony Pus

While it’s not hard to spot an Eastern Grey Squirrel in High Park, you’re most likely to do so during the day, when they are most active, and if you look around at the trees, where they spend most of their lives.

White Squirrel Sighted May 4, 2011. Photo: Lisa Kemp

The white squirrel you may come across in High Park is actually an Eastern Grey Squirrel which has white fur as a result of mutated genes. It’s a partial albino – the eyes are dark, not pink like a pure albino. While sightings in High Park are rare, Toronto's Trinity Bellwoods Park has long been known for its colony of partial and pure albinos, where there have actually been sightings of squirrels not only with white fur, but also pink eyes. Albinos don’t tend to persist, possibly because albinism is linked to poor vision, making them more vulnerable to predators and vehicles.

That’s right, the black and grey squirrels you see running around the park (at up to 25 km per hour!) are not two separate species, but simply different colour variations.

Black squirrel. Photo: Ali Pashang

While you may not have been so lucky as to spot a white squirrel in High Park, certainly you’ve come across the Eastern Grey Squirrel in one of its other colours, grey or black. That’s right, the black and grey squirrels you see running around the park (at up to 25 km per hour!) are not two separate species, but simply different colour variations. The black phase is common in the Toronto area but uncommon in the northeast U.S. and not found at all in the southern U.S. Before European settlement, black squirrels were more common than grey throughout their range. It is thought that their dark colour gave them better protection from predators when they lived in the dense dark forests that once covered the northeastern States and eastern Canada. The fact that they are still common here may be related to our colder climate.

Eastern GrEy Squirrel. Photo: Tony Pus

Squirrels get their name from their bushy tail.

Squirrels get their name from their bushy tail. The word Sciurus is actually derived from two different Greek words that mean “shadow” and “tail”. It’s no surprise they were named for their tail, as it has several functions, including keeping warm in the winter, expressing their mood to other squirrels, and distracting predators.

The fact that High Park is located in an urban area is no deterrent for Eastern Grey Squirrels. In fact, the highest density in the U.S recorded for this species was at Lafayette Park, next to the White House, where these large canopy trees were present, with density of the squirrels at this site reaching 20 per acre. (No similar numbers are available for High Park but we seem to have our fair share.)

Note: The less common Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudonsicus) also occurs in High Park.

Red Squirrel. Photo: Ali Pashang

When the restoration of the Black Oak Savannah began in the 1990s, it was thought that the large population of grey squirrels may have contributed to poor oak regeneration in High Park, since acorns are a favoured food source (although their storing habits may also help in the planting process). In recent years the oak regeneration has been responding well to better management practices, such as prescribed burns, so maybe the squirrels were not the culprits after all!

Squirrel eating acorn. Photo: Karen Yukich

Flying Squirrels - Extirpated Species

by Kathleen Keefe

Have you ever run the 50-metre dash? That’s half the length of a soccer field and that’s how far a flying squirrel can glide through the air! Technically, it can’t really fly, but the furry membranes that stretch between its wrists and ankles work like parachutes to make it sail through the air when jumping from tree to tree and branch to branch. Its flat furry tail acts like a rudder to guide its course. In fact, a flying squirrel can turn left, right, or even change its mind and direction midair and do a 180! While ever so gracefully agile in the air, flying squirrels become sluggishly clumsy on the ground. If far from a tree when danger appears, their only hope is to find a nearby hiding place.

Southern Flying Squirrel. Photo: Stan Tiekela

Just think, not too long ago you could see these amazing creatures right in High Park! Well, you could have seen them if you’d had night vision goggles that is. Flying squirrels are nocturnal and do their soaring in the night. They have huge bulging eyes to help them see in the dark and they have very sensitive whiskers that help them feel their way around. They even use scent glands in their cheeks to mark their routes through the woods.


  1. BlogTO (May, 2014). Get to know the squirrels of Toronto
  2. A Lighter Shade of White, Spacing Magazine. Kaitlyn Kochany. Winter 2009-2010 issue.
  3. Manski, D.A, Van Druff, L.W and Flyger, V. 1981. “Activities of Gray Squirrels and People in a Downtown Washington, D.C Park.” Trans. North America Wildlife and Natural Resource Conference. Volume 46: 439-454.








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