Spermophilus columbianus
(Columbian Ground Squirrel)

Order: Rodentia
Order Description:Rodents
Family: Sciuridae
Family Description: Chipmunks, Marmots and Squirrels

Columbian ground squirrels tend to be grayish mixed with black on top with non-distinct buffClick word for definition spots. The front of their face, their front legs and their belly are all a reddish, rust brown. Their front feet are buff colored. They have a bushy tail that is reddish brown, but is has white with black mixed in on the periphery of the tail. They are larger than most ground squirrels: total length is 12 7/8 to over 16 inches (327-410 mm), tail length is 3 to 4 ¾ inches (77-120 mm), and they weigh 12 to 28 ounces (340-812 g).

From southeastern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta, south through northern and eastern Washington, northeastern Oregon, northern and central Idaho, and western Montana.

Found, from about 200-2400 m, in open habitat such as high grass plateaus, valley grasslands, meadows, clearcuts, coniferous forests, and stream banks. This species is not tolerant of dry conditions like many of the other ground squirrels are.

Feeds on wide variety of vegetation such as roots, bulbs, stems, leaves, seeds, and berries. Also eats some animal food (e.g., insects, mice, and dead fishes.

Spends about 70% of year in hibernationClick word for definition. HibernatesClick word for definition from July-October and emerges from February-April, depending on elevation. In Idaho, June is height of activity for females. Individuals are diurnalClick word for definition; in spring/summer, activity occurs from about 20 min after sunrise to about 10 min after sunset. Typically constructs burrow in friable or sandy soils in open ground or bank under boulder or log. Population density of 32-35/ha has been reported for central Idaho and Alberta; 25-62/ha on agricultural lands in Washington. densityClick word for definition is generally uneven over large areas. Species is colonial. In southwestern Alberta study, intercolony yearlingClick word for definition males dispersed usually less than 4 km (but up to 8.5 km). Average home range of adult male was about 0.4 ha, adult female about 0.1 ha. Adult males defend (primarily during breeding season) core areas within home range. Adult females defend territory near nest burrow and exhibit strong site fidelityClick word for definition.

Mating occurs soon after females emerge from hibernationClick word for definition. GestationClick word for definition lasts 24 days. Female produces 2-7 (average 2-4) altricialClick word for definition young born May-late June. Nursing period usually lasts about 30 days. Young reach sexual maturity in 1-2 yr; 22-33% survive to maturity.

Status: Unprotected nongame species

Global Rank:


State Rank:


Important State References:
Elliott, C.L. and J.T. Flinders. 1980. Seasonal activity pattern of Columbian ground squirrels in the Idaho Primitive Area. Great Basin Natur. 40:175-177.

Information written by Donald Streubel,© 2000
Map image provided by
Stephen Burton,© 2000
Photos by David L. Chesemore ©2001
Design by Ean Harker©1999, 2000.