The red squirrel is one of our most loved forest animals. But when did you last see one and how much do you really know about them? Discover some intriguing facts about red squirrels and how we can help them to make a comeback.
At Forest Holidays, we have red squirrels at both of our Scottish locations and spotting one is a real ‘wow’ moment.
Why do these plucky little forest dwellers pull at our heart-strings so much? Is it because they are the underdogs in a fight for survival? Or because they seem to have jumped straight from our childhood books? Or is it just their sheer cuteness when they hold a nut and nibble away at it?
Whatever their attraction, it’s time we found out a little more about one of Britain’s best loved mammals.
How much do you know about red squirrels?
• Red squirrels have been sharing our forests with us in the UK for over 10,000 years
• Baby squirrels are called kittens and the average life span of a red squirrel is three years
• Red squirrels can climb down trees head first because they are able to rotate their angle joints by 180 degrees
• We think of them as forest animals, but red squirrels are also amazingly strong swimmers
• Red Squirrels can be left-hand or right-handed, a fact that has been discovered by studying the nibble mark on the nuts they discard. The position of markings shows which hand the squirrel was holding the nut in.
•Red squirrels love hazelnuts but don’t like acorns, so they are more likely to survive in mixed woodland that contains hazel. Grey squirrels, on the other hand, will eat acorns, which is why you often see them in oak trees
• Red Squirrels’ bushy tails are multi-functional. They are used for balance, communication, speed control when jumping, and warmth.
• Squirrels are second home owners – they live in dreys and they often create more than one to confuse their predators.
• The coats of red squirrels become thicker and darker in the winter before being shed in the late spring and early summer
• There are now fewer than 250,000 red squirrels in the UK (down from around 3.5 million) and 75% of those live in Scotland.
Why are red squirrels under threat?
Although their Latin name, scirius vulgaris, means common squirrel, the red squirrel is now anything but common. Over the course the last century they have become an increasingly rare sight, particularly in England.
The reason for the decline has much to do with grey squirrels, which were introduced into the UK from America in the 1870s. They compete with red squirrels for food and habitats and, as they are bigger and able to store more fat, they usually win. Add to this the fact that they also carry squirrel pox, which kills red squirrels but doesn’t affect grey, and you can see why they are a threat.
However grey squirrels are only part of the problem. As with many of our endangered species, habitat loss, traffic accidents and attacks by predators have also played a significant part in the decline of the red squirrel.
How can we help red squirrels?
Pets will naturally see red squirrels as prey. If you are lucky enough to live in an area with red squirrels and you have a cat, a simple measure is to get a collar with a bell for your cat.
If you are walking your dog in the woods and there are red squirrels, keep it on the lead. The times to be extra careful are the nesting periods – March to May and July to August
In your garden, plant spiky red-squirrel-friendly shrubs such as blackthorn and holly, to keep predators at bay, and place feeders with hazelnuts well up off the ground. But only feed red squirrels if you have no grey squirrels present.
There are some great organisations too, which are working hard to protect our red squirrels. The UK Squirrel Accord brings together most of these organisations with the aim of securing the long-term future of the red squirrel.
Where can you see red squirrels?
With most red squirrels residing in Scotland, and their preference for hazel, Douglas fir and European larch, it’s no surprise that we have red squirrels at both of our Scottish locations.
At Strathyre they co-habit happily with our resident pine martens, another rare and rather cute forest mammal. Pine martens are natural predators of grey squirrels, so they may well be one of factors keeping the red squirrels safe. We are absolutely delighted that some pine martens have now taken up residence at Ardgartan Argyll too, so that can only help our red squirrel friends.
At Forest Holidays, our cabins are surrounded by woodland, increasing your chances of seeing a red squirrel up close, with a minimum of effort. Find out more about Scottish wildlife, and our Alternative Scottish Big 5 wild animals and book your red-squirrel watching Scottish Holiday today.