Skip to content

Red squirrel spotting tips

Red squirrel sitting on a mossy rock eating a nut
Red squirrel | © National Trust Images / Jim Bebbington

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:

  1. Look up as they live in the trees
  2. They are easier to spot in the morning and late afternoon
  3. Listen for rustling in the treetops
  4. Falling pine cone seeds means a squirrel is munching above you
  5. 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.

A red squirrel with dark fur on its back, foraging for pinecones on the woodland floor at Formby, Liverpool
A red squirrel foraging in protected woodland at Formby, Liverpool | © National Trust Images / Gary Bailey


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.

A family spotting red squirrels from the nature hide at Wallington, Northumberland
Family spotting red squirrels from the nature hide at Wallington | © National Trust Images / Chris Lacey

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.

Family life

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.

You may also be interested in

Red squirrel with a chestnut on Brownsea Island, Poole Harbour, Dorset

Looking after red squirrels 

Red squirrels are protected at our places. Discover more about the safe havens we are providing for these fascinating creatures.

Song thrush sitting on grass amongst small blue flowers at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent


Get closer to nature by reading our guides on how to spot wildlife, facts about ancient trees and tips on identifying birdsong, plus many more activities.

A water vole by a canal

How to spot water voles 

Discover how to identify burrows, food, footprints and latrines, and how to tell the difference between water voles and brown rats, even when they're swimming.