The Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel courtesy Graeme DougalRed squirrels, Sciurus vulgaris, are native to Britain but are in danger of extinction. Grey squirrels were introduced into Britain over a hundred years ago and steadily encroached on the reds' habitat and also brought along a disease deadly to the reds. Conifer woodland provides the best habitat for red squirrel conservation.

The squirrels live in a natural hollow of a tree, which they line with mosses and grasses, or they make a ball shaped nest for themselves in a tree using twigs and sticks. They usually have more than one nest.

Sciurus vulgaris Red Squirrel by David HicksonRed squirrels are not necessarily red; they can be anything between almost black to an orangy red. Their underside is white. One way to tell them apart from the grey squirrel is that they have ear tufts. Reds also have longer tails, and greys have white hairs on the tail edge. Another way to tell them apart is to look at their size: grey squirrels are about 17-18cm long while reds are 20-22. Reds are smaller in weight than greys-300 grams as opposed to 300-540 grams. You also seldom spot a red on the ground, while greys are more adventuresome.

Red squirrels have to hunt for feeding grounds where the grey doesn't live-there's generally not much food left over when the dense colonies of greys finish dining. Reds eat daily but do bury food when there is extra around.

Red Squirrel courtesy Friends of Red SquirrelRed squirrels like to munch on seeds and buds from pine, spruce, yew, elm, larch, and birch. They also like beechnuts, hazelnuts, rosehips, and fungi. They appreciate any goodies you can share with them provided they are sunflower or pine seeds, unsalted peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, and fruit. Some squirrels like apples and carrots, others don't. They'd appreciate some water to go with their food.

It would seem that the squirrels wouldn't need summer feeding, but since fruits and nuts aren't ripe till autumn, this is an important time to help them out. To get the food to them and not the greys, purchase a red-only food hopper or put food out in a habitat that greys don't frequent.

Red Squirrel in autumn courtesy Ann BowkerThe woodland around Thirlmere is a red squirrel refuge. To catch site of them get up at dawn or watch in the late afternoon.

Red Alert North England is a conservation project to help the red squirrel survive. Most especially they set up woodland refuges for them. For further information visit their website: Save our Squirrels. To report a siting of a squirrel phone 0845 347 9375.

Photos courtesy of Graeme Dougal, David Hickson, Friends of Red Squirrel and Ann Bowker

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