Red Squirrel

Sciurus vulgaris

Iora Rua

Red Squirrel

What kind of animal is a red squirrel?

The red squirrels is a rodent, in the same group as mice and rats, as well as more exotic species such as porcupines. Rodents are one of the most successful groups of mammals, with 1700 species. Most rodents are small, and all have strong sharpened front teeth (incisors) which grow throughout the animal’s life. So rodents gnaw constantly at their food, which helps keep their teeth at the right length.

Are red squirrels native to Ireland?

The red squirrel was the original Irish squirrel, possibly arriving here along with colonising tree species. It was once a very common animal, but declined as trees were cut down for human use. It  may have become extinct more than once, with other squirrels being re-introduced afterwards. So we cannot really tell whether any population of red squirrels is truly native.

How do I recognise a red squirrel?

The red squirrel is quite a small, slim animal, unlike the stockier grey squirrel. Average length is about 40cm from nose to tip of tail. The coat is usually red-brown, but may turn quite greyish in winter. The tail is very long and bushy, and is used for balance as the squirrel runs though the treetops. The ears have long tufts and the fingers have sharp claws for holding onto tree bark.

Where do red squirrels live?

Red squirrels are arboreal, meaning they spend almost all of their time in trees. So healthy woodland is essential for their survival. Ireland has only about 8% tree coverage – one of the lowest in Europe - so squirrels only occur in pockets throughout the country. The extensive planting of conifers in the 20th century has probably helped the spread of some squirrel populations.

Do red squirrels live in groups?

Red squirrels are solitary for most of the year, but nest communally in winter and spring, for warmth and to raise young. The nest is a ball of twigs about 30cm across, called a drey. Most of the year, squirrels stick to their home ranges, which may overlap to some degree depending on how much food is available.

What do red squirrels eat?

Red squirrels are specialists, feeding on the fruit of trees such as pine cones and hazelnuts. They will take shoots and buds, berries and mushrooms in season. The strong, sharp incisor teeth are used to split hazelnuts and tease out seeds from pine cones. In winter, squirrels may strip the bark from tree branches. Squirrels feed at dawn and dusk, and store food in hoards for the winter.

Do red squirrels hibernate?

Red squirrels do not hibernate, but are less active on the coldest days in winter.

When are baby red squirrels born?

The breeding season in red squirrels is quite long, from one December to the next September. And if the weather is good, 2 litters may be raised in a year, in spring and late summer. The young are born in the drey, blind and with no fur, 6-7 weeks after mating. They feed on their mother’s milk for 2 months. If a squirrel puts on enough weight to survive its first winter, it may live for about 4 years.

Do red squirrels make noises?

Red squirrels make a variety of squeaks and chattering noises, especially when they feel threatened by humans or other animals, or in dispute with neighbouring squirrels. They also stamp their feet and may chase one another from branch to branch.

Do red squirrels have any predators?

Very few other animals can catch the agile red squirrel as it leaps through the high branches, but pine martens, which share the same habitat, may occasionally take a young or unlucky squirrel. There are records of this occurring in other countries, but not in Ireland yet, as both species are quite rare and secretive.

Are red squirrels endangered?

In Ireland and Britain, red squirrels are in serious decline, due to habitat loss and competition with the American grey squirrel, which is bigger and stronger than the red squirrel, and is able to digest nuts and fruit before they are ripe. It also carries a virus which may be transmitted to red squirrels. So as greys expand their range, reds are pushed to the margins. To help increase range and numbers, some red squirrels have been moved to safe areas of forestry in the west, where there are currently no grey squirrels.

National Parks & Wildlife Service, 7 Ely Place, Dublin 2. Phone: +353 1 8882000 Fax: +353 1 8883272