Neotoma cinerea
(Bushy-tailed Woodrat )

Order: Rodentia
Order Description:Rodents
Family: Cricetidae
Family Description:
Mice and Rats

The bushy-tailed woodrat is grayish on its back and tail and lighter underneath, with distinct white feet. It has a fairly large, bushy, but flattened tail, and except for its flat shape, it resembles a squirrel’s tail. It has large ears, prominent eyes, and long whiskers. Total length is about 14 to 18 inches ( 350-450 mm), tail length is 5.4 to 8.8 inches (135-220 mm), and it weighs 8.5 to 10 ounces (240-280 g). The flat, bushy tail is distinctive as other woodrats have round, short-hair tails.

From Yukon Territory, south to northern Arizona and New Mexico.

Inhabits mountains, cliffs, talusClick word for definition slopes, caves, and rock outcrops, both in forests and open deserts. Can also be found in deserted buildings and mine shafts.

Feeds on twigs, shoots, leaves, needles, fruits, and seeds. Southeastern Idaho study found grass, cactus, vetch, sage, and mustard in diet as well as a few arthropods.

This species is active throughout year. They are primarily nocturnalClick word for definition, but may occasionally be seen during day. This species is the true packrat of the group. They have a strong habit of picking up debris, sticks, bones, conifer cones, ungulate, coyote, or other scats, and shiny objects that careless humans might drop, including keys, aluminum can tabs, etc. and carrying them into their nest area. They are sometimes called “traderats” as they tend to drop one item thay may be carrying when they see something else to pick up. Their nests usually are behind piles of debris that they haul in. Their nests are commonly found on cliffs and small caves. They have a unique characteristic of depositing their fecesClick word for definition in creacks in rocks adjacent to their nests. When examining these deposits, you cannot help having a strong sense of curiosity at the function of this elaborate behavior. It must be significant in their life history because it is obviously very deliberate and requires considerable energy. These woodrats are territorial and mark their territory with a musky scent. Male may exclude other males from small rock outcrop inhabited by multiple females. They are also adept tree climbers. Because their habitat requirements are quite specific and they are territorial, their population densities are sparse. They are known to thump their hind legs when disturbed. They are probably preyed on by owls, bobcats, coyotes and long-tailed weasels. Their nests have been known to persist over long periods of time because when a nest owner dies, another woodrat will take it over. Archaeologists and paleontologists have actually studied debris in the piles by nests and they have found items that have been in the nests for thousands of years. This provides clues about early humans as well as climate in early times.

Breeding peaks in spring. GestationClick word for definition lasts about 5 wk. Female produces 2-3 litters of 3-4 young/litterClick word for definition. Births occur April-August in California. Young males disperse by 2.5 mo; many females breed in natalClick word for definition area.

Status: Unprotected nongame species

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Important State References:
Johnson, M.K. and R.M. Hansen. 1979. Foods of cottontails and woodrats in south-central Idaho. J. Mammal. 60:213-215.

Information written by Donald Streubel,© 2000
Map image provided by
Stephen Burton,© 2000
Design by Ean Harker©1999, 2000.