Red Squirrel – Sciurus vulgaris
Despite historically high numbers, the introduction of grey squirrels during the early 20th century greatly contributed to red squirrel decline through disease transfer and indirect competition (better foraging efficiencies). The only certain way to sustain red squirrel populations is through the exclusion of grey squirrels. This can be achieved through the creation of habitats favourable for only red squirrels, selective feeders or lethal exclusion. To improve the success of reintroductions further research is required.
Typical fur varies in colour from dark red/brown or grey/brown (appears greyer in winter) with white underside. However, extremes of colour exist and you sometimes see black or white squirrels. Distinctive ear tufts present in winter, not in summer.
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Footprints: Tracks can be seen in mud, sand and snow. Squirrel leave tiny tracks, which can be easily overlooked. Forefoot width 2.5cm, length 3.5cm, hind foot width 3.5cm, length 4.5cm.
Feeding signs: The red squirrel eats nuts, acorns, berries and the cones of conifer trees (see photo). They split acorns and hazelnuts and leave rough often jagged edges. Pine cones are stripped but leave the top sections untouched.
Nests: The nests of red squirrel (and grey squirrel) are known as dreys. They are spherical collections (approx. 30cm across, at least 6m above the ground) of twigs and leaves which are usually located in the fork of the branches, close to the trunk. It is easier to observe these in winter, when there are fewer leaves on the trees. It is not possible to distinguish between red and grey squirrel dreys.
Grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
Grey squirrel has grey fur which often has brown tinge and sometimes appears slightly red. Red squirrel has red fur, but can vary and at times may appear greyer. Grey squirrel has a larger head and body size. Red squirrel grows noticeable ear tufts in winter which the grey does not have.