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Grey Squirrels: Fieldwork Observations

The grey squirrel is a mammal that is native to the United States and some provinces of Canada. Due to its grey fur, the squirrel frequently occurs in city environments since the color increases the species’ survival rate in urban conditions. As a consequence, these animals and their behavior are of great interest to researchers. Fieldwork observations might help understand their behavioral patterns better and measure the intelligence and cognition of the grey squirrel, which live in close proximity to humans. Interacting with other species and modifying their behavioral patterns, these animals adjust and survive successfully.

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First of all, the behavior of grey squirrels can be considered as highly vigilance with regard to cues of safety. Lilly et al. (2019) show in their research that grey squirrels adapt adequately to the environment to protect themselves from predators. More particularly, researchers pay their attention to the interaction of these animals with birds: they respond to “bird chatter,” perceiving it as an indicator of the lack of danger.

Lilly et al. (2019) compared the behavior of squirrels when birds chirp and when there was no chatter but “playback recording of a red-tailed hawk.” Hence, they have found that, in the second case, squirrels more frequently looked up and demonstrated vigilance behavior, whereas, after the chatter, they showed a lower level of alertness. In other words, it suggests that they use information included in bird chatter as a signal of safety. Given that, it can be claimed that grey squirrels adjust their behavior and the level of alarm in accordance with species, which shares the same carnivores. Thus, such interspecies interaction as a measure of safety might prove the high rate of intelligence of the grey squirrels.

Concerning grey squirrels behavior in terms of evolution and learning, they show a high degree of readiness to change preferred behavior and a willingness to switch to other methods of resolving problems. With regard to learned behavior, Chow et al. (2019) found that grey squirrels can inhabit innate and learned behavior when it becomes unproductive and search for alternative solutions. When an animal finds a successful method for solving a problem, it learns and applies it as a cognitively economical method for solving similar problems. However, animals need some adjustment mechanisms in order to change these behavioral patterns if they are not effective anymore.

These behavioral adjustments reflect animals’ cognitive flexibility essential for problem-solving success (Chow et al., 2019). In other words, the researchers outlined two indicators of problem-solving flexibility. They found that all squirrels successfully dealt with the altered problem, which could not be solved through the previous methods, on the first trial. Moreover, animals showed “solving durations comparable to their last experience of using their preferred solution” (Chow et al., 2019). Thus, it can be claimed that, due to their inhibitory control, grey squirrels do not necessarily emit innate or learned behavior if it is not effective; as a consequence, they adapt successfully to changing environment.

Furthermore, there is no relation between brain lateralization and grey squirrels’ learning success. Leaver et al. (2020) examined the connection between lateralization and cognitive performance in Sciurus carolinensis. The researchers used the measurement of left or right paw preference as a behavioral assay of cerebral lateralization, while the squirrels’ learning speed was a cognitive efficiency assay. They discovered “a negative relationship between the strength of paw preference and performance on the learning task” (Leaver et al., 2020). Hence, it can be said that grey squirrels are strongly reliant on spatial memory, which is essential for food caches, and might profit from the bilateral redundancy presented by a more symmetrical brain.

Regarding the possible implications of the observations and research articles for measuring animal intelligence and cognition, the presented articles provide relevant information. According to the researches, it is possible to estimate the intelligence level of grey squirrels as high enough. The need to adapt to the urban environment forces them to interact with other species, in particular birds, to defend against common enemies. The ability to perceive signs of other species shows a considerable degree of organization and brainpower. Furthermore, the significant flexibility of the learning processes and the symmetrical brain, revealed in the presented studies, makes it possible to assess the high-level consciousness of grey squirrels.

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The studies that are surveying the behavior of squirrels in the course of conducted experiments have discovered not only special behavioral patterns but also confirmation of superior intelligence and consciousness.

To conclude, the fieldwork observations showed a high rate of animal intelligence and cognitive flexibility. Living in urban environments, grey squirrels adapt successfully to quickly changing circumstances due to their willingness to modify behavioral patterns to be more effective, interspecies interactions, and their cognitive efficiency. Grey squirrels demonstrate the ability to protect themselves against predators due to bird signals’ perception and change their performance if the previous one became less productive. Moreover, the presented observations of grey squirrels’ behavior might be implemented for estimating animal intelligence and cognition.


Chow, P. K. Y., Lea, S. E. G., de Ibarra, N. H., & Théo, R. (2019). Inhibitory control and memory in the search process for a modified problem in grey squirrels, Sciurus carolinensis. Animal Cognition, 22(5), 645-655. Web.

Leaver, L. A, Ford, S., Miller, C.W, Yeo, M.K., & Fawcett, T. W. (2020). Learning is negatively associated with strength of left/right paw preference in wild grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis). Learning & Behavior, 48(1), 96-103. Web.

Lilly, M. V., Lucore, E. C., & Tarvin, K. A. (2019). Eavesdropping grey squirrels infer safety from bird chatter. PLoS One, 14(9), 1-15. Web.

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