Search Field Guide
Advanced Search
MT Gov Logo
Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Columbian Ground Squirrel - Urocitellus columbianus

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5
(see State Rank Reason below)

Agency Status


External Links

Listen to an Audio Sample
Copyright Jeff Rice and the Acoustic Atlas at Montana State University. Audio file courtesy of the Acoustic Atlas at Montana State University (
State Rank Reason (see State Rank above)
Species is relatively common within suitable habitat and widely distributed across portions of the state
  • Details on Status Ranking and Review
    Columbian Ground Squirrel (Urocitellus columbianus) Conservation Status Review
    Review Date = 05/03/2018
    Range Extent

    ScoreG - 200,000-2,500,000 km squared (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)

    Comment106,016 square Kilometers from Natural Heritage Program range maps

    Long-term Trend

    ScoreE - Relatively Stable (±25% change)

    CommentHabitat is likely stable within +/- 25% since European settlement

    Short-term Trend

    ScoreU - Unknown. Short-term trend in population, range, area occupied, and number and condition of occurrences unknown.

    CommentNo data on trends available


    ScoreH - Unthreatened. Threats if any, when considered in comparison with natural fluctuation and change, are minimal or very localized, not leading to significant loss or degradation of populations or area even over a few decades’ time. (Severity, scope, and/or immediacy of threat considered Insignificant.)

    CommentNo operational threats in the next 15-20 years identified

    Intrinsic Vulnerability

    ScoreC - Not Intrinsically Vulnerable. Species matures quickly, reproduces frequently, and/or has high fecundity such that populations recover quickly (< 5 years or 2 generations) from decreases in abundance; or species has high dispersal capability such that extirpated populations soon become reestablished through natural recolonization (unaided by humans).

    CommentNot Intrinsically Vulnerable. Species matures quickly, reproduces frequently, and/or has a high fecundity such that populations recover quickly (< 5 years or 2 generations) from decreases in abundance. Species has good dispersal capabilities such that e

    Environmental Specificity

    ScoreD - Broad. Generalist. Broad-scale or diverse (general) habitat(s) or abiotic and/or biotic factors are used or required by the species, with all key requirements common in the generalized range of the species in the area of interest. If the preferred food(s) or breeding/nonbreeding microhabitat(s) become unavailable, the species switches to an alternative with no resulting decline in numbers of individuals or number of breeding attempts.

    CommentFound in a diversity of habitat types including grasslands, agriculture and other developed areas, montane meadows, and occasionally wooded areas

    Raw Conservation Status Score

    Score 3.5 + 0 (geographic distribution) + 0.5 (environmental specificity) + 0 (long-term trend) + 1 (threats) = 5

General Description
The Columbian Ground Squirrel is easily distinguished from other Montana ground squirrels by its larger size and distinctive coloration. An average adult weighs more than a pound. Its head and body measure 10 to 12 inches in length. The tail is 3 to 5 inches long and tends to be bushy, particularly when the squirrrel is excited. Reddish-brown fur is found on the nose, forelegs, and hindquarters. The back and upper limbs are mottled gray and brown (Montana Department of Agriculture 1985).

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Western Hemisphere Range


Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 1840

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)


Intermontane valleys, open woodland, subalpine meadows, even alpine tundra (Hoffmann and Pattie 1968). Subalpine basins, clearcuts, and other disturbed areas (Ramirez and Hornocker 1981). At high elevations, may use rockslides/forage in meadows. Prefers grasslands and sedges.

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2012.  Mammals of Montana.  Second edition.  Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana.  429 pp.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
In early summer: grasses, leafy vegetation, and bulbs. May increase use of fruits and seeds as season progresses. Uses a small amount of animal matter: insects, fish, carrion.

Have an allopatric distribution with S. richardsonii from Canada border south to Madison and Beaverhead Counties, but overlap with S. richardsonii, S. columbianus, and S. armatus in portions of Beaverhead and Madison Counties (Hoffmann and Pattie 1969).

Reproductive Characteristics
Breeding dates vary depending on location/elevation. April at lower elevations. As late as June at higher elevations. One litter per year. Young reach full growth during second season.

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Hoffmann, R.S. and D.L. Pattie. 1968. A guide to Montana mammals: identification, habitat, distribution, and abundance. Missoula, MT: University of Montana. 133 p.
    • Montana Dept. of Agriculture, Helena, MT. 1985. The Columbian ground squirrel : Its biology and control.
    • Ramirez, P., Jr. and M. Hornocker. 1981. Small mammal populations in different-aged clearcuts in northwestern Montana. J. Mamm. 62(2):400-403.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • Adelman, E.B. 1979. A survey of the nongame mammals in the Upper Rattlesnake Creek drainage of western Montana. M.S. thesis. University of Montana, Missoula. 129 pp.
    • Barash, D.P. 1971. Cooperative hunting in the lynx. Journal of Mammalogy 52(2):480.
    • Barash, D.P. 1973. Habitat utilization in three species of subalpine mammals. Journal of Mammalogy. 54(1): 247-250.
    • Baril, Steven F., and Daniel Sullivan, 1983, Brodifacoum in bait stations for managing Columbian ground squirrels. Tech. Rep. 83-2. December 1983.
    • Betts, B.J. 1973. The adaptiveness of the social organization of a population of columbian ground squirrels (Spermophilus columbianus). Ph.D. dissertation University of Montana, Missoula. 235 pp.
    • Buck, C.L. 1939. Pattern correlation of mammalian teeth as a means of identification. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, Montana: Montana State University. 55 p.
    • Burnett, G.W. 1981. Movements and habitat use of American marten in Glacier National Park, Montana. M.S. thesis. Univ. Mont., Missoula. 130 pp.
    • Dice, L.R. 1923. Mammal associations and habitats of the Flathead Lake Region, Montana. Ecology 4(3): 247-260.
    • Douglass, Richard J., DMI Ecological Research, Butte, MT., 1995, Small animals potentially living in the proposed Cottonwood Mining Area. August 1995. In Gem River Corporation Application for Operating Permit and Plan of Operations. Marc I Mine, Dry Cottonwood Creek, Deer Lodge County, Montana. Vol. 2, Apps. App. L. No date.
    • Elliot, C.L. and J.T. Flinders. 1991. Spermophilus columbianus. Mammalian Species 372:1-9.
    • Farmer, Patrick J., and Thomas W. Butts, Western Technology & Eng., Inc., Helena, MT., 1994, McDonald Project Terrestrial Wildlife Study, November 1989 - November 1993. April 1994. In McDonald Gold Project: Wildlife & Fisheries. [#18]. Seven-up Pete Joint Venture, Lincoln, MT. Unpub. No date.
    • Farmer, Patrick. J., et al., Western Technology and Eng., Inc., Helena, MT., 1984, Montana Tunnels Project Baseline Terrestrial Wildlife Study. December 14, 1984. In Application for a Hard Rock Operating Permit, Montana Tunnels Project, Jefferson County, Montana. Vol. 3. Environmental Baseline Reports. (Centennial Minerals, Inc., Hydrometrics, 1984?)
    • Foresman, K. and C. Henderson. 1992. Summary report: small mammal populations in harvested and mature douglas-fir stands: Rivulet Site 1991. [report submitted to Intermtn. Res. Station, For. Sci. Lab.]. Missoula, MT. 14 pp.
    • Foresman, K.R. 2001. The wild mammals of Montana. American Society of Mammalogists, Special Publication Number 12. Lawrence, KS. 278 pp.
    • Foresman, K.R. 2012. Mammals of Montana. Second edition. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana. 429 pp.
    • Fowle, S. and J. Ashley. 1994. Interactions between park visitors and mountain goats at Logan Pass and Oberlin Bend in Glacier National Park, Montana. 1994 Monitoring results and recommendations. Resource Management, Glacier National Park. 67 p.
    • Hoffmann, R.S., P.L. Wright, and F.E. Newby. 1969. The distribution of some mammals in Montana. I. Mammals other than bats. Journal of Mammalogy 50(3): 579-604.
    • Johnson, L.J. 1960. Mammal studies on the Lubrecht Forest, Montana: a preliminary report. Proc. Mont. Acad. Sci. 20: 40-47.
    • Joslin, Gayle, and Heidi B. Youmans. 1999. Effects of recreation on Rocky Mountain wildlife: a review for Montana. [Montana]: Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society.
    • Koeppl, J.W. and R.S. Hoffman. 1981. Comparative postnatal growth of four ground squirrel species. Journal of Mammalogy. 62(1): 41-57.
    • Koeppl, J.W., R.S. Hoffmann and C.F. Nadler. 1978. Pattern analysis of acoustical behavior in four species of ground squirrels. Journal of Mammalogy. 59(4): 677-696.
    • Malloy, J. C. 1981. The effect of 1080 baiting on Columbian ground squirrels and nontarget mammal and bird populations. M.S. thesis. University of Montana, Missoula. 65 pp.
    • Manville, R. H. 1959. The columbian ground squirrel in northwest Montana. J. Mammal. 40:26-45.
    • Martin, Steve A., ECON, Inc., Helena, MT., 1982, Flathead Project Wildlife Report, 1981-1982. November 30, 1982.
    • Mont. Dept. of Agriculture., 1988, Managing ground squirrels with bait stations. Inform. Bul. No. 5.
    • Montana Dept. of Agriculture, Environmental Management Division, Helena, MT. 1885? The Biology and control of the Richardson ground squirrel.
    • Montana Dept. of Livestock., 1977, Special local need registration application for sodium monofluoroacetate (1080) grain bait to control Columbian ground squirrel damage in western Montana. May 18, 1977.
    • Montana Tunnels Mine, Inc., Jefferson City, Helena, MT., 1988?, Application for an Amendment to the Montana Tunnels Operating Permit for the Prickly Pear Water Supply System, Jefferson County, Montana.
    • OEA Research, Helena, MT., 1982, Beal Mine Wildlife Report. June 17, 1982.
    • Oechsli, L.M. 2000. Ex-urban development in the Rocky Mountain West: consequences for native vegetation, wildlife diversity, and land-use planning in Big Sky, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Montana State University, Bozeman. 73 p.
    • Ramirez, Pedro, Jr. 1977. Small Populations in Different-Aged Clearcuts and Uncut Forests in Northwestern Montana. M. S. thesis. 72 pp.
    • Reichel, J. D. 1976. Coyote-prey relationships on the National Bison Range. M.S. thesis. University of Montana, Missoula. 86 pp. plus appendices.
    • Reichel, J.D. 1986. Habitat use by alpine mammals in the Pacific Northwest. Arctic and Alpine Research. 18(1): 111-119.
    • Reid, F. 2006. Peterson Field Guide to Mammals of North America, 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston and New York, 608 pp.
    • Rust, H. J. 1946. Mammals of northern Idaho. J. Mammal. 27(4): 308-327.
    • Sullivan, Daniel, 1982, Bait stations as a means of rodenticide presentation to control Columbian ground squirrrels. Technical Rep. 82-3. Sept. 1982.
    • Sullivan, Daniel, 1982, Determination of an effective single lethal dose for bromadiolone to Columbian ground squirrels. Tech. Rep. 82-4. Dec. 1982.
    • Sullivan, Daniel, and Monty Sullins., 1985, Acceptance of various rodenticide baits under field conditions by Columbian and Richardson Ground squirrels. Tech. Rep. 85-05. Sept. 1985.
    • Sullivan, Daniel, and Monty Sullins., 1986, Field evaluation of chlorophacinone treated bait for management of Columbian ground squirrels. Tech. Rep. 86-2. September 1986.
    • Sullivan, Daniel, and Steven F. Baril, 1981, A Field efficacy study of strychnine and zinc phosphide grain baits using nontoxic prebait for the control of the Columbian ground squirrel (Spermophilus columbianus). Tech. Rep. 81-2. August 1981.
    • Sullivan, Daniel., 1983, Field evaluation of bromadiolone treated bait for control of the Columbian ground squirrel. Tech. Rep. 83-1. August 1983.
    • Thompson, Richard W., Western Resource Dev. Corp., Boulder, CO., 1996, Wildlife baseline report for the Montana [Montanore] Project, Lincoln and Sanders counties, Montana. In Application for a Hard Rock Operating Permit and Proposed Plan of Operation, Montanore Project, Lincoln and Sanders Counties, Montana. Vol. 5. Stroiazzo, John. Noranda Minerals Corp., Libby, MT. Revised September 1996.
    • Tisch, E.L. 1961. Seasonal food habits of the black bear in the Whitefish Range of northwestern Montana. M.S. thesis. University of Montana, Missoula. 108 pp.
    • Treiman, E. F. 1982. Evaluation of fluoride in vegetation and mammals in the Garrison, Montana area. M.S. thesis. University of Montana, Missoula. 79 pp.
    • Turner, L. W. 1972. Habitat differences between Spermophilus beldingi and S.columbianus in Oregon. J. Mammal. 53(4):914-917.
    • Tweten, R.G. 1984. Baseline survey of furbearing mammals within the South Fork drainage Sun River, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 63 p.
    • Tyser, R.W. 1980. Use of substrate for surveillance behaviors in a community of talus slope mammals. The American Midland Naturalist 104(1): 32-38.
    • Tyser, Robin W. 1978. Foraging and substrate use patterns in talus slope mammals. PhD Dissertation. University of Wisconsin-Madison. 142pp.
    • Weckwerth, R. P. 1957. The relationship between the marten population and the abundance of small mammals in Glacier National Park. M.S. thesis. University of Montana, Missoula. 76 pp.
    • Western Technology and Engineering, Inc. (WESTECH), Helena, MT., 1994, Terrestrial Wildlife Reconnaissance: Interim Report. Golden Sunlight Mines, Inc., Oxide Expansion. February 1994.
    • Zackheim, K. 1973. Exhibit H: Wildlife Study. In Ash Grove Cement Co. files.
  • Web Search Engines for Articles on "Columbian Ground Squirrel"
  • Additional Sources of Information Related to "Mammals"
Login Logout
Citation for data on this website:
Columbian Ground Squirrel — Urocitellus columbianus.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from