With fall officially here to stay (for the time being), you’ll no doubt spot a variety of animals scurrying about as they make their winter preparations. One such critter you’ll likely spy this season is the beautiful, yet feisty red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). A native to Alberta, this industrious rodent can be easily identified by its signature reddish coat that thickens considerably as cooler weather approaches. But did you know that the red squirrel is closely related to chipmunks? Or that a litter of red squirrels usually clocks in at four or five babies?
In case you can’t get enough of these lovable yet territorial rodents, here are six facts you may not know about red squirrels:
- Though their name hints at a totally red coat, red squirrels aren’t actually fully red in colour. The coats on their backs can range from a grey-brown to a shock of rusty red, while their throats, bellies, and rings around their eyes provide a contrast of stark white.
- Red squirrels don’t hibernate during the winter – in fact, they stay active throughout the season. If you spot a red squirrel hurrying about during the fall, it’s likely because he’s on a mission to prepare for the upcoming cold months by collecting and storing food for future consumption.
- While we all imagine squirrels munching merrily on nuts or acorns, the red squirrel’s diet is much more varied than those singular items. True, their main source of nutrition comes from some nuts and the seeds from pine cones. But, by definition, red squirrels are omnivores, and their diets extend to include flowers, berries, mushrooms, bugs, mice, eggs, and small birds.
- Red squirrels have a firm grasp on food storage. Using tree cavities, underbrush piles, or dens as their own pantries, red squirrels can ensure that the food they’ve gathered for the winter will be kept safely and out of the way of trespassers. Before storing mushrooms that they’ve foraged, red squirrels have been known to lay them out to dry on tree branches.
- Red squirrels are feisty and territorial towards intruders, and confrontation between two red squirrels often entails a lot of tail flicking, chattering, and foot stomping. Though these actions may seem adorable to us as onlookers, it can mean that things are getting heated in a squirrel argument.
- There’s a reason why a red squirrel’s tail is so big and bushy: when it’s not being flicked around to intimidate a rival, the tail of a red squirrel is primarily used for balance as the animal jumps from tree to tree in wooded areas. With a tail that measures to be about half the size of an average red squirrel (six and 12 inches, respectively), half of the animal’s body’s length is devoted to helping it keep balance and intimidating other squirrels.
If you happen to see a red squirrel – or any injured wild animal, for that matter – that’s injured or abandoned, please contact AIWC at 403-946-2361 for assistance.
By Giselle Wedemire, AIWC Volunteer