Red squirrels alive and well in Illinois

April 01, 2008 at 02:25 PM

Some time back I wrote a short piece about squirrels in Illinois. I talked mostly about the fox and the gray squirrel and touched briefly on flying squirrels. I remarked how some people will call the fox squirrel a red squirrel. While these two species are not the same, I did say that there were no red squirrels in Illinois. I was wrong!

The other day I was checking out some photos taken by Gary Soper of and wouldn’t you know that it was a photo of a red squirrel. I contacted Gary and he had this to say, “Yes, we sure have the eastern red squirrel in spots along the Kankakee (River) and there was some research on these little guys a year or so back over a two-year period done by Thomas A. Nelson at Eastern Illinois University.”Illinois Outdoors

“The red squirrel is a species of special concern in Illinois due to their restricted geographic range and low numbers (Kankakee County),” wrote Nelson. “Research to date suggests that Illinois’ red squirrels have a broader distribution than previously documented. Squirrels occupy coniferous, deciduous and open forest.”

I went on to find a bit more information on other research by EIU students. One study is using DNA to try and find the origin from which the squirrels might have come. One possibility suggests that the squirrels were obtained from Minnesota and released in Kankakee County in the 1970’s. Another possibility being studied is that a small population may have been present in Kankakee County throughout the early 1900’s to the present. The last possibility could have the squirrels immigrating from Lake and Newton Counties in Indiana, areas known to consistently have red squirrels.

The Department of Natural Resources will use all of the study information to determine how they will manage the red squirrel.

I checked out the most recent endangered species list and did not see the eastern red squirrel.