The common squirrel rarely earns a second glance from hikers–unless the furry nuisance is ransacking your pack in search of gorp. But these three unique species are worth watching:
These aerodynamic treetop-dwellers aren't true fliers, but they're champion gliders. Flights of up to 1,500 feet have been recorded, made possible by their built-in "wings": a fold of loose skin extending from wrist to ankle and supported by a cartilaginous rod. Once they land, the squirrels quickly move from one side of the tree to the other to evade predators like hawks. Ungainly on the forest floor, these nocturnal squirrels stick to the trees in mixed forests from the Pacific Northwest to the Eastern seaboard.
Best known as the loudest chatterbox in North America's forests, this pint-size seed collector fills the woods with growls and screeches. Found everywhere from the Northeast south to Virginia and across to the Rocky Mountains, red squirrels hoard stockpiles of seeds, sometimes tunneling 12 feet into snowdrifts to store their caches. Although they possess a tremendous sense of smell, the squirrels sometimes lose track of their many stashes, unwittingly acting as the Johnny Appleseeds of coniferous and deciduous forests.
GOLDEN-MANTLED GROUND SQUIRREL
Don't mistake these colorful squirrels for chipmunks. True, they sport two white stripes bordered by black stripes, like their frenetic counterparts, but they're one-third bigger (up to a foot long), with coppery-red fur on their head, face, chest, and paws. Known for fearlessly approaching hikers with hopes of a handout, the golden-mantled squirrel also feasts on nuts, insects, and fungi. Look for them on rocky talus slopes at elevations up to 10,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada, Cascades, and Rocky Mountains.