Highland Red Squirrels

Red Squirrel, aka Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris).

You can see red squirrels all year round because they don’t hibernate. They are particularly active from January to early springtime, which is mating season. The youngsters are great fun to watch as they play. Usually solitary, red squirrels usually only coming together to mate, but they do not mind social interactions (as you will see below). Related squirrels will share dreys to keep warm during cold winter months. Their nest – the drey – is made out of twigs in a branch-fork in a tree making a small domed structure.

According to the Forestry Commission, the future of the red squirrel, which is native to Britain, is increasingly uncertain due to the introduction of the American grey squirrel as it expands its range across the mainland. According to the Wild Life Trust, red squirrels have lived in the UK for around 10,000 years.

There are estimated to be only 140,000 red squirrels left in Britain, with over 2.5 million greys. Elsewhere, red squirrels are found across the northern Europe and Siberia, where they prefer Scots pine, Norwegian spruce and Siberian pine. In western and southern Europe they are found in broad-leaved woods.

Grey squirrels can feed more efficiently in broadleaved woodlands and can survive at densities of up to 8 time that of red squirrels. The Highlands remains one of the few places free from grey squirrels, so it is a top place to find and also to preserve and encourage the red squirrel populations to grow. In 2005, 127 Scottish woodlands were selected as red squirrel conservation areas.

Red squirrels eat seeds and pine cones. Their diet also includes hazelnuts, fungi, shoots and fruits of shrubs and trees, and sometimes birds’ eggs. They are partial to nuts which are often used by people who feed them either in their gardens, or to attract them to photography hides. Many people who put nuts out for the birds in rural areas, have to cover them in a course wire mesh to keep the squirrels away.

The elusive pine marten lives in the same habitat as red squirrels and is one of their main predators along with birds of prey. If they avoid such predators, a red squirrel typically lives to around 7 years old.

Red squirrels typically moult their winter coats in May to June; their summer coats come through before the winter fur is lost, leaving them looking stripey and causing concern over potential disease – which you can see below. Their ear tufts become more prominent in the Autumn.

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