Red squirrel spotting tips
The red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is one of our most popular and well-loved mammals. Need some help to discover red squirrels at our special places? We've got it covered. Find out how to spot them, the best times to see them and where they live.
Our top five squirrel-spotting tips:
- Look up as they live in the trees
- They are easier to spot in the morning and late afternoon
- Listen for rustling in the treetops
- Falling pine cone seeds means a squirrel is munching above you
- Stand still and be very quiet as soon as you spot one.
When to spot a red squirrel
While we can't guarantee a sighting, if you want to track them down it’s all about finding the right place and keeping very quiet. They are shy creatures and will run away if they hear you coming.
Best time of year
Red squirrels are most active in spring and autumn so these are the best seasons to spot them. In spring, squirrels are out and about feeding on emerging foliage and flowers and gradually shed their winter coats. In autumn, they are busy hoarding their winter stores and can be seen scuttling about on the woodland floor. They start their winter moult around September when the more prominent ear tufts can be seen. While they try to put on extra weight for the winter months, the squirrels must also stay athletic enough to leap between trees.
Best time of day
Squirrels will generally be seen during the quieter times of the day, so if you’re planning a trip, a good time to see them is first thing or later in the afternoon. Even better, at Brownsea Island in Dorset you can stay overnight on the campsite and go red squirrel spotting after all the other visitors have gone home.
Squirrels are not always red. They vary in colour and can be brown, greyish or nearly black. They can get white hairs in their coats and tails; they can also be bleached blonde by the sun. It's still fairly easy to tell them apart from grey squirrels because red squirrels are smaller, have a more pointed face and distinctive ear tufts.
Red squirrels prefer mixed broad-leaf and conifer plantations, with a diverse age structure. They live mostly in trees, but can sometimes be seen on the ground.
Red squirrel facts
Squirrels feed on tree seeds, buds, bark, fungi and occasionally small birds and their eggs. They prefer pinecones to acorns; a gnawed pinecone is a sure sign of squirrels. In autumn, they bury food for a supply in winter.
Home, sweet home
A red squirrel's 'nest' is called a drey. Dreys are built high up in trees, close to the trunk. They're made from twigs on the outside and lined with soft, warm moss, wool, feathers and leaves. Each squirrel will build several dreys for resting and breeding. While they don't hibernate, they are less active in winter. In very bad weather, they tend to stay in their dreys.
Red squirrels typically live four to five years. Female squirrels start to breed when they're less than a year old and have three or four young each time. They have up to two litters every year; usually in early spring and summer. Baby squirrels are called kittens. They are born pink and bald, with no teeth and their eyes closed. Like all baby mammals, they drink their mother's milk. They grow up fast - at seven weeks, they're red and fluffy, and ready to leave the drey.
Red squirrels are protected at our places. Discover more about the safe havens we are providing for these fascinating creatures.
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