(Protected) Pest Of The Week – Red Squirrel

The red squirrel is native to Britain, but its future is increasingly uncertain as the introduced American grey squirrel expands its range across the mainland. There are estimated to be only 140,000 red squirrels left in Britain, with over 2.5million greys.

Red squirrels usually have russet red fur and weigh between 270-360g, with a head and body length of 19-23cm. Red squirrels are well known for having tufts on their ears. These tufts are present for most of the year but are moulted in late summer and regrow in early autumn. They are most prominent in winter months.

Red squirrels build large nests, called dreys, often in the forks of tree trunks. They are usually solitary, only coming together to mate. But they do not mind social interactions and related squirrels will share dreys to keep warm during cold winter months.

Red squirrels produce young, called kittens in the spring and can reproduce a second time in the summer if conditions are right. Females usually have 2-3 kittens but litters can be of up to 6 young, born 45-48 days after mating. Females bring up the young and are territorial over their brood. Between 20 and 50 per cent of kittens survive to adulthood. Young red squirrels are weaned off their mother’s milk after about 8 – 12 weeks, when they have developed a complete set of teeth.

Red squirrels are seed eaters. They favour pine cones, but also eat larch and spruce. Their diet also includes fungi, shoots and fruits of shrubs and trees, and sometimes birds’ eggs. They can choose between good and bad nuts by holding them in their paws. Reds do not hibernate and store fungi in trees to eat over the winter months. When food is plentiful, they put on weight in the autumn to help them through the winter. This is important for breeding females, so that they are in good condition for producing young.

The main threats to the survival of the reds are the increasing number of grey squirrels, disease (squirrel poxvirus) and road traffic. Greys can feed more efficiently in broadleaved woodlands and can survive at densities of up to 8 per hectare. The density of reds is up to 1 per hectare in broadleaved woodland but can be as low as 0.1 per hectare in coniferous woodland.
The main predators of red squirrels are birds of prey, such as goshawks and pine marten. In some urban areas, such as Jersey, domestic cats are also a threat when squirrels go into gardens to feed.

Red squirrels are listed on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly:

  • kill, injure or take a red squirrel;
  • damage, destroy or obstruct access to any structure or place which a red squirrel uses for shelter or protection (a drey);
  • disturb a red squirrel when it is occupying a structure or place for that purpose;
  • possess or control, sell, offer for sale or possess or transport for the purpose of sale any live or dead red squirrel or any derivative of such an animal.
  • It is an also offence to release a grey squirrel into the wild.

Knowingly causing or permitting any of the above acts to be carried out is also an offence.

For advice or further information on red squirrels in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee or Perth, call GRAHAM pest control today and we could help.