|Today, the Eurasian red squirrel is protected
in Great Britain. But 100 years ago there was a campaign to eliminate this
rusty brown rodent from Scotland because it damaged trees. The Eurasian
red squirrel is common throughout the forests of Europe and Asia but very
rare in Great Britain. Its decline in that country is not fully understood,
but the main reasons seem to be competition for food with the larger gray
squirrel and the destruction of suitable wooded habitats.
Habits: The Eurasian red squirrel has powerful hind legs and sharp claws. It is perfectly adapted to climbing slender boughs and leaping in its forest home. On the continent of Europe, the red squirrel is found in coniferous (evergreen) forests. In Great Britain it lives mainly in deciduous woods. The squirrel is solitary outside the breeding season. But during the winter it shares its nest with others for warmth.
The nest can be a drey or a den. A drey is a 12 inch domed ball of twigs and leaves. It is built on a twig platform in the fork of a tree branch. The dome is packed with leaves, moss, and bark and limed with feathers, thistledown, or dried grasses. A den is often an old enlarged woodpeckers hole in a tree hollow. The squirrel lines the den with the same soft materials as the dome. The Eurasian red squirrel molts and grows a new coat twice a year. In summer it has a short, mainly reddish brown coat. Between August an November it has a thicker, dark brown coat. During this period its ear tufts become more prominent.
Food & Feeding: The Eurasian red squirrel spends most of its day finding, eating, and storing food. Its diet is similar to the gray squirrel's. Tree seeds are the main food. Conifer cones, found on trees most of the year, provide a constant food source. A red squirrel searches trees meticulously for food, some times hanging upside down to reach a morsel. It takes its findings to a thick cover or another secure spot to eat in safety. When stripping a cone, the squirrel holds the top in one paw and the base in t he other.
Then it rotates the cone, biting off the scales to get at the seeds. The rest of the red squirrels diet depends on habitat, but it may include flowers, shoots, insects, hazelnuts, and fungi. Unlike the gray squirrel, the red squirrel rarely eats acorns, which it finds indigestible. Both red and gray squirrels strip tree bark to get at the sap. If they leave a stripped ring around the trunk, the tree soon dies. This behavior has prompted foresters to exterminate gray squirrels.
Breeding: The Eurasian red squirrel breeds only when there is a good food supply. Pursued through the treetops by several males, a female finally allows one of them to mate with her. She can produce two litters a year. While pregnant, the female builds a nest. She bears one to six young, but three is usual. For the first week after birth, she stays close to the young.
The mother is very protective. If the nest is disturbed, she moves her babies to a new one. At three weeks old, the youngsters eyes and ears open, and their fur begins to show. After about seven weeks they start to leave the nest and eat solids. But they continue to suckle for another three weeks.
Did you know?:
Related Species: Closely related to the
gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis.
The Eurasian Red Squirrel and its Drey:
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