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Animal Fact File: Red Squirrel

Name: Red squirrel

Scientific Name: Sciurus vulgaris

Description: The small Eurasian red squirrel or red squirrel is a tree squirrel that has sharp curved claws that help them climb and descend trees, thin branches and even walls. They have strong hind legs for jumping, and also possess the ability to swim. Their main identifying features are their long bushy tails, which help them balance when jumping and keep them warm, and tufts on their ears.

Red squirrel on a tree stump 

Species: Red squirrels are a species of tree squirrels in the Sciurus genus. There are several species in the genus, such as the Eastern grey squirrel and they are found in North America, Europe, Central and South America and temperate Asia.

Colouring: The colour of a red squirrel’s coat varies depending on the time of year and location, though in Britain it is commonly red to brown, with a white underside. They shed their coat twice a year, in spring for a thinner summer coat and in autumn to make way for thicker fur for the cold weather.

Length: Head and body, 19 – 23 cm and tail, 15 – 20 cm.

Weight: 400 to 800g

Habitat: Red squirrels live in boreal coniferous woods, such as Scots pine, and in Western Europe can be found in broad-leaf woods where a mixture of trees and plants provide a year-round source of food.

Diet: Seeds from trees, such as conifer cones, fungi, nuts, particularly hazelnuts, berries and young shoots form a red squirrel’s diet. They have also been known to eat the eggs of small birds.

Breeding: Mating occurs in February and March and in June and July, with two litters a year being possible. Males will chase females prior to mating, and both sexes will mate with several partners. Litters often contain three or four kittens, and gestation is 38-39 days. The young are looked after the mother alone and are born blind, deaf and bald.

Lifespan: Three years if they survive their first winter.

Top Speed: 14mph

Other Facts:

  • Red squirrels sometimes gnaw on deer antlers to look after their teeth as they are full of calcium.
  • Studies have found red squirrels can be left or right-handed, based on how they have nibbled pinecones.
  • Red squirrels will often make more than one drey (nest) to confuse predators or if one gets damaged.
  • Red squirrels can jump a distance of two metres and survive falls of 12 metres without injury.
  • The double jointed ankles of red-squirrels means they can descend trees head first.
  • Red squirrels have an excellent sense of smell, finding food buried underground and being able to tell if a nut is rotten.
  • The Red squirrel is found in the Highlands of Scotland, parts of northern England such as Cumbria, some parts of Snowdonia and the Isle of Anglesey in Wales and the Isle of Wight in England.

Be sure to get your country clothing on when heading out for a walk in the beautiful British countryside, and keep an eye out for red squirrels if you are in an area that they are known to inhabit. Take a look at some of our other animal fact files about common wildlife found in Britain, such as the badger, peafowl and pheasant.