Columbian ground squirrels are found in alpine and sub-alpine meadows and they are very common if you are hiking in any of the Rocky Mountain Parks. I find them plentiful in the Bankview meadows and those around the Lake O’Hara area. I have also noticed them at elevations above the Alpine tree line. When you stop for a lunch or snack, odds are it these small rodents will be watching you and be bold enough to come closer. The Columbian ground squirrel is pretty much confined to the Rocky Mountains and is found in Canada in eastern British Columbia and Western Alberta. In the United States, it can be found in eastern Oregon and Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana.
The Columbian ground squirrel has white-speckled brown, black and gray fur on its head and back. It has reddish-tan fur on its face and nose, chest, undersides and legs. It has a bushy reddish-black tail and white around its eyes.
In the following video, Dr Carin Bondar explains how environmental changes affect the world around us, in particular, a ground squirrel population in Alberta, Canada
Global warming drives evolution of Columbian ground squirrels
The Columbian ground squirrel hibernates seven or eight months out of the year. It may begin hibernating as early as July only feeding for 130 days in the year, the other 235 days can be spent in hibernation. The squirrel has to consume about 17 per cent of its body weight each day before going to sleep. Otherwise it wouldn’t survive the winter. It has a special hibernation chamber in its burrow that is sealed off from the rest of the burrow with a plug of dirt. It puts on fat in the summer and stores seeds and bulbs in its hibernation chamber to eat when it wakes up in the spring.
Mating season is in the early spring after the squirrels awake from hibernation. Males come out of hibernation first. The females will wake up a week later. Columbian ground squirrels live in colonies and they can get quite large. Females usually stay with the colony they were born into, males will leave their birth colony.
Females enter hibernation later than males, and the timing of entry into hibernation is in part controlled by the timing of parturition. Females cannot gain the weight necessary for hibernation until after they have weaned their litters. Therefore, females giving birth late in the season are among the last to enter into winter sleep.
A baby of a Columbian ground squirrel is called a ‘pup, kit or kitten’.
The females are called ‘doe’ and males ‘buck’.
A Columbian ground squirrel group is called a ‘dray or scurry’.