Red Squirrel Keeping an Eye on Our Red Squirrels
 

Squirrel Observations

Packaged Squirrel Feed

Red squirrels generally don't seem to like packaged Squirrel Feed.  Although there may be a picture of a red squirrel on the packet, most feed is bought by people in England for feeding greys (because they are the only squirrels around).  Red squirrels tend to pick out the peanuts or avoid eating it entirely.  On one occasion when I tried bought squirrel feed, the activity rate (as measured by the datalogger) plummeted.  Observing the squirrels, they tended to look in the box and then go away.  I suppose they would eat it if they were very hungry.

What they like to eat

Red squirrels certainly like peanuts, but it is not a good idea to feed them too many.  Adding pine nut kernels and hazelnuts is a good idea.

They have very definite tastes and preferences.  With a mixture of peanuts, pine nut kernels and hazelnuts in the feeder, they will usually dig for the best stuff and leave the peanuts for later.  If you see a sloping level of feed in the feeder, this is a sign that they have been excavating.  They presumably use their sense of smell to detect the different food types.

Peanuts in Shell

These nuts (or Monkey Nuts) are greatly preferred even though they must taste the same as ordinary peanuts.  They are very quickly taken from the feeder.  They seem to relish breaking open the outer casing and finding the peanut.

If they gain some sort of rudimentary Enjoyment in gaining a reward in this way, it might have a survival value in helping them to discover novel foods.  This would allow them to exploit more habitats and cope better when food is scarce.  If so, this might explain their preference for peanuts in shell.

Feed Level

The rate of feeding declines noticeably as the level of feed in the feeder goes down.  I believe research has shown that animals generally don't have a good sense of quantity, so it may be because they have to reach deeper into the feeder as it empties.  An experiment with a specially adapted feeder might show some light on this.

They do seem to take more food for burying when the feed level is high.  This happens at all times of year, and not just before winter.

Antlers

Red squirrels will happily gnaw on a discarded antler, providing them with a useful source of Calcium.  They do this at all times of year.  There is usually an antler nailed to the left of the RedSquirrelWatch feeder, but it isn't on camera.

Social Interactions

Red squirrels are not territorial, but they often repel other squirrels from the feeder.  However, their reaction depends on who the other squirrel is.

While a common reaction to an approaching squirrel is to take a flying leap and chase it away, this is not always so.  Some squirrels will be allowed to approach and even touch noses without any sign of aggression.  Sometimes a squirrel will lift the lid of the feeder while another is sitting on it.

Squirrel vs Bunny

I have observed a squirrel chasing a rabbit on the lawn, but it only chased it under a hedge and then gave up.

My wife was walking home one day when a squirrel attacked a rabbit that was on the grass verge at the side of the road.  The squirrel chased it to the other side of the road where a fight ensued, with much squealing.  The rabbit then turned on the squirrel, at which point my wife made a lot of noise and broke up the fight.  The rabbit was bigger than the squirrel, but perhaps not quite fully grown.  This mysterious behaviour occurred in late autumn.

Squirrels normally run past rabbits on the lawn without taking any notice, so the behaviour was exceptional.

Squirrel Facts

  • Their Scientific name is Sciurus Vulgaris.
  • They are significantly smaller and lighter than grey squirrels (head & body 18 to 24 cm, tail 14 to 20 cm, weight 250 to 350 g).
  • They have four fingers on their front paws and five toes on their feet.
  • They are either left or right handed when feeding on cones.
  • They like to hang upside down from their rear legs.  Their ankle joints swivel like a wrist to enable them to do this.
  • The colour of their fur varies from reddish brown to greyish.  They moult twice a year around spring and autumn.  The thicker winter coat is usually quite greyish and the ear tufts are more prominent then.
  • The squirrels in the Cairngorms area are particularly noted for often having blonde tails.
  • They do not hibernate, but store nuts and seeds for use when food is scarce.  They can remain in their dreys for several days if the weather is very bad.
  • They eat nuts, seeds, buds, leaves, bark, fruits, fungi, insects and occasionally birds' eggs.
  • They sometimes store and dry fungi in their dreys.
  • They live in a drey, which is about the size of a football and made of twigs lined with moss and grass.  Each squirrel may use several dreys.
  • They can have two litters per year of three of four kittens (baby squirrels).
  • Kittens are born with their eyes closed and no teeth or hair.  They are weaned at 10 weeks when they are ready to leave the drey.
  • They can live in both conifer and broadleaved woodland, at a density of around one per hectare.
  • They can live to five or six years old in the wild.
  • They communicate by moving their tails and stamping their feet as well as by various sounds.

 

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