RED SQUIRREL FACT SHEET
Slender body with long bushy tail.
Head is broad with a pointed muzzle and large eyes.
The tufts on the ears are very obvious in winter but disappear in
the summer months. Squirrels
have long hind legs and shorter fore legs.
They have five toes on their back feet, but only four toes on their
The coat colour of red squirrels may vary from bright ginger/light red through to red and dark brown, or black tinged with blue-grey in winter. Although often the colouring is the same (uniform) throughout the body, except for a white or cream belly/underside.
Breeding can begin in mid-winter (December/January) and continue through the summer (ie August/September), depending on the weather and how much food is available. Delay or absence of breeding may occur when supplies of seed foods are poor.
Females have one or two litters a year.
Squirrel pregnancy last for 38-39 days.
The litter size can vary from 4 to 7 young, with often only 2 to 3
young being born to younger females. There
can be one or two litters per year with the two peaks of births often
occurring in February to April and then again in May to August.
Young or yearling females often only have a single litter per year.
Juveniles leave the nest at about 7 weeks of age, but are not fully weaned until around 10 weeks and do not breed until they are one year old.
Squirrel nests, or dreys, are constructed
of twigs in a tree fork, or hollow or above a whorl of branches close to
the stem of a conifer, often approximately 6m up or higher. They are lined
with soft hair, moss and dried grass.
Occasionally hollow trees may be used for nest sites, particularly
in broad-leaved woodland. Several
squirrels may share the same drey, or use the same drey on different days.
Habitat and range:
Red squirrels live in all types of woodland
habitats from pure broadleaf, to mixed broadleaf and conifer, to pure
conifer and are also often spotted in parks and gardens.
Squirrels are very dependant on a constant and adequate supply of
seeds, hence mixed tree-species rather than single tree species forests
often provide a more reliable year-round food supply.
Their main foods are tree seeds, such as
hazel nuts, acorns, beechnuts, chestnuts and seeds from conifer cones. They
also eat tree flowers and shoots, berries and other fruit, mushrooms and
fungi from under tree bark. Red squirrels often suffer periods of food
shortage especially during July.
Red squirrels spend about three-quarters of
their active time above ground in trees and shrubs.
They are opportunistic foragers, with foraging and feeding taking up
about 60-80% of their active time. Squirrels
may strip bark off conifer trees to reach the sap and will gnaw the scales
off pinecones to reach the seeds. Squirrels
do hoard and store food. Foods
such as hazelnuts, beechnuts, acorns and conifer cones can be
scatter-hoarded, just under the soil surface, and often one to four items
will be found per store.
Social behaviour and activity patterns:
Squirrels are generally solitary animals,
but can share dreys (nests), especially in the winter or spring months.
The size of home ranges can vary for each individual squirrel and
they may even overlap with other squirrels, especially where food is
abundant. Males also often
have larger home ranges than females.
Squirrels are very good jumpers and
climbers and are extremely agile when travelling along tree branches.
However, squirrels do come to the ground when foraging or when
burying food. They are diurnal
(active in the daytime), though in summer they may rest for an hour or two
around mid-day. The times
during which squirrels are most active are early morning (2-4 hours after
sunrise) and late afternoon (2-4 hours before sunset) in summer and in the
winter, they are mainly active in the late morning.
do not hibernate, but if the weather is very stormy or cold, they may stay
in their nests for several days on winter.
The Red Squirrel is the only squirrel that
is native to Britain and their populations are considered vulnerable, as
the distribution of Red Squirrels has been seen to decline drastically over
the last 60 years. However, in
Jersey, the Red Squirrels are thriving, especially as there are no Grey
Squirrels on the Island; Grey Squirrels can act in competition against the
Red Squirrels for habitat and food, but more importantly, the Grey
Squirrels can carry a Pox virus without any clinical signs, but the Red
Squirrels are very susceptible to infection by this pox virus which often
results in their death.
Red squirrels are protected by law, and may not be intentionally trapped, killed or kept.
JSPCA working to
“prevent cruelty, promote knowledge, provide for aged,
sick, lost and unwanted animals.”
Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Founded 1868 – Incorporated 1936
89 St Saviour’s Road, St
Helier, Jersey JE2 4GJ
Tel: 01534 724331
Fax: 01534 871797
Wildlife Information Network, www.wildlifeinformation.org
Mammal Society Fact Sheets