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How to identify a Red Squirrel
Key Features: Ear Tufts on adults. Bushy tail all one colour.
Coat: Usually reddish brown with a pale bib. Can be
variable, appearing dark (sometimes almost black), or very light due
to bleaching by the
summer sun when they can appear blonde or greyish. Their tails act as
a rudder when moving or jumping - up to twenty feet - and acts as a cosy
coat held over their backs while stationary in cold weather. Red squirrels
have long whiskers, which they use to find their way around inside their
Size: 18 - 22 cm body length. Slender build. Weighs around 275 - 350g.
Behaviour: Spends most of its time in trees. Quite timid, rarely seen
far from tree cover.
Red squirrels build nests, called dreys, in the forks of branches, close
to the main trunk. The drey consists of a hollow ball of twigs and
leaves, which is then lined with soft hair, grass and moss. Summer
dreys may also be constructed, which are flat, less protective structures
used for resting during daylight hours. Some squirrels may use natural
holes in trees, which are known as dens. Often two or three dreys are
in use at any one time; these may be close together or wide apart,
depending on the squirrels' range. In the winter and very early spring,
squirrels of all ages and both males and females may share dreys but
only if their territories overlap and they feed close together or know
each other. Drey sharing usually stops in late spring and summer when
the females are raising their young.
The mating season often starts on warm days in January with the squirrels
chasing each other through the branches or around a tree trunk. The female
red squirrel may produce two litters in a good year (45 - 48 days after
mating), one in the spring (April) and the other in summer (August).
There can be up to six young born but more often though two to three
babies (kittens) in a litter. The breeding drey is usually a little larger
with a thick, soft, lining of grass and hair. If the mother is disturbed,
she will carry her babies in her mouth, one by one, to another nest,
which is sometimes quite a distance away.
The young are born blind and naked. As they develop, the female spends
more and more time away from the drey, and by the time they are three
weeks old she may leave them for hours at a time. At seven weeks the
young begin to venture away from the nest and at nine to twelve weeks
they are weaned and become independent. Their fluffy, darker baby coats
change into the adult colour. Their first winter is a time of danger,
with up to 85% of young, perishing during harsh conditions. Only females
bring up the young and are territorial over their brood, with the male
taking no part in the rearing of his young.
To read about the effect of the virus
on red squirrels read the article from Newcastle University by clicking
on the link below.
Red squirrels threatened by virus
Red squirrels undoubtedly enjoy the hazel nuts that are provided in the
feeders in our gardens, but they are well adapted to eat the much smaller
nuts found inside cones – you will know that they are resident
in a conifer forest by the litter of the remains of well-stripped cones
on the ground. They also enjoy the fruit of wild roses, hawthorns etc.
Spruce forests, however, only produce cones every 5 years. A good variety
of types and ages of conifers is helpful.
Red Squirrel fatalities.
If you find a dead red squirrel (including road kill) it is important
to send the body for a post mortem.
The body should be reasonably fresh and preferably unfrozen
(although frozen bodies can be sent). It should be sent straight away
1. The body should be packed in absorbent material (kitchen roll) in
three individually closed plastic bags and placed in a rigid cardboard
box (i.e. tissue box). Label clearly ‘Pathological Specimen – Fragile
with Care’ and state your address on the outer wrapping.
2. IF the squirrel is suspected dieing from the pox virus then send
by first class post to:
Vetinary Investigation Centre,
IF the squirrel died as a result of road kill or have
no sign of disease then send by first class post to:
Institute of Zoology,
Zoological Society of London,
3. Complete the following information and include with the body:
Date found Location found Indication of cause of death
Senders name and address Senders telephone/email address
Download these instructions and a form to send with
the sample here
PACK PROPERLY AS THE POST OFFICE MAY REFUSE TO DELIVER SMELLY OR DIRTY
ENSURE THE PACKAGE IS POSTED TO ARRIVE ON A WEEKDAY
KEEP REFRIGERATED PRIOR TO POSTING
A Sucesss Story.
Here’s a tail of Two Red Squirrels
Environment Editor Tony Henderson on survival against all the odds.
©Newcastle Journal Saturday 1st Sept. 2007
THAT there are two more red squirrels to reinforce the North-East’s dwindling
population is down to couple Eileen and Barry Welsh.
They took in two newborn squirrels found in a garden in Darras Hall, Ponteland.
Part of the squirrels’ drey was caught on a nearby holly bush, having
been either blown down or wrecked by a predator. The Ponteland Red Squirrels
group took the tiny youngsters to the Sanctuary Wildlife Centre in Ulgham,
Northumberland. Eileen, 60, who is the sanctuary’s education officer,
said: “They were so tiny, I knew they were going to need intensive care.
Everyone thought they were going to die, but I decided to do all I could for
took the squirrels to her home in Cramlington and drew on experience gained
from 20 years of breeding cats. That meant feeds of goats milk and vitamins
every three hours, day and night. There were times at 2.3Oam when I thought
I can't do this any more but Barry is an animal lover as well and,
although he works full-time, he also took his turns,” said Eileen.
After two and a half weeks, the schedule changed to four-hourly feeds. “It
was after five weeks that we had our first full night’s sleep,” said
Eileen. Now the squirrels can lap up their own feed from jam jar lids and have
started to nibble solid food. “When we first took them in, their eyes
were closed, they were bald and they had no teeth,” said Eileen. “Now
they are running riot. They go up and down the curtains and run around me as
if I was a tree, perching on my shoulder and hanging off my T-shirt”
The smallest of the squirrels had a broken leg, from which it has now recovered,
and Barry gave it the name of Jake the Peg. “I called the other one Fidget,
because that is what he does continuously,” said Eileen. Both get along
well with the couple’s cats. The youngsters were already from a late
litter, and it is now too near the autumn to release them. They will be kept
over the winter in a special enclosure at the wildlife sanctuary with the aim
of setting them free next spring.
Eileen is appealing for donations to help build the enclosure at the sanctuary,
which is open to the public from Fridays to Mondays inclusive. If you can help,
ring (01670) 791778. “The squirrels are wild animals and the idea of
the enclosure is that we don’t want them to become too humanised,” said
Eileen. “But when they are released, it will be with a certain sense
Kim Olson, who runs the sanctuary, said: “Eileen and Barry have done
a fantastic job and have put in a tremendous amount of hard work. “The
red squirrels are just one example of animals taken to the sanctuary and we
don’t discriminate over what wild animals are cared for.”
Building new homes in mature gardens of properties in Darras Hall is worrying
the Ponteland Red Squirrels group. Trees and bushes are often removed to allow
the new developments, says the group. “These are not only the perfect
habitat for our red squirrels but also for other wildlife,” said group
member Sally Hardy.