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Six Things to Know about Red Squirrels!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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

Sources:

  • https://natureedmonton.wordpress.com/2013/08/27/the-red-squirrel/
  • https://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/mammals/rabbits-rodents/red-squirrel.aspx

81 thoughts on “Six Things to Know about Red Squirrels!”

  1. Are red squirrels more destructive that grays or blacks?

    My neighbor insists the are more destructive and has begun her own progr am of trap and transport.

  2. I see red squirrel nests up high in the trees and have often wondered how they can survive a blizzard in such relatively unsheltered conditions. And how the nests resist being blown apart .

  3. In what months do red squirrels have their litters? I have a nest in my house and before sealing the hole I’d like to know the litter is out.

    1. Hi Mel,
      Red squirrels will already be having young, if they haven’t already. It depends on the year, but they can have them as early as March. For more information, please call out wildlife hotline at 403-946-2361. Thank you!

  4. I rescued a newborn red squirrel and bottle fed him. He had no hair and eyes were closed. He slept in a cat’s travel cage with a heating pad. He is now 7 weeks old, eats ground nuts , bananas and seeds. He will no longer take the bottle. I believe he is ready to go on his go on his own. What do you suggest I do now?

    1. Hi Florence,

      If you haven’t already, please call our Wildlife Hotline at 403-946-2361 as we can better assist you over the phone. Thank you!

  5. John P Nightingale

    Lethbridge Aberta (Galt Gardens)
    Late afternoon, 14th June 2019 identified a Red Squirrel.
    I asked a passer by to take a photo as I had no camera.
    Waiting for the image.
    I can confirm this as being a RS.
    Very tame.
    I was not aware they were actually here, so perhaps a release ??
    On the other hand they could easily travel thru the Oldman river system and reside in the mature spruce nearby.
    Interested in your thoughts.

    1. Hi John,
      We do have red squirrels in Alberta so it’s likely this was a red squirrel, but if you would like us to take a look at the image once you receive it, please email it to us at info@aiwc.ca Thank you! 🙂

    1. Hi Cynthia, it is possible but we don’t have any experiences to share of this happening. Is this something you have seen?

  6. Cynthia, I have around 20 red squirrels & 30 chipmunks living in and around & under my home. Food is plenty. I live in Maine. They absolutely get along…the red squirrel will run the chipmunk off just a few feet then return to eating, but nothing more. I’ve seen chipmunks run the red squirrel off as well. I’ve never seen them brawl. When not eating, they stay clear of each other and live in harmony. If possible, try to give them all their own feeding area. It keeps the squabbling down. But if not, they know when each other is not around and they take turns on num num.

  7. We have lived in a rural foothills setting for over 30 years and red squirrel s have been a constant part of our area. We also maintain several bird feeders and enjoy the squirrels as well as a great variety of birds. We have had cases where red squirrels will chew open the entrance to our bird nesting boxes and eat the eggs, but this year for the first time we have had several red squirrels actually prey upon birds ( a Siskin and a goldfinch) . This happened on a tray feeder within 3 feet of the bay window by our kitchen table. It was both deliberate and very efficient. It’s almost as if this years litter of squirrels has a different survival pattern than we have seen before. Any other comments?

    1. Wow, very interesting that this is something they have started doing this year. As you know, it is common for them to feed on eggs and in some cases, small songbirds. If you are concerned, you could try different feeders that the squirrels have a harder time getting access to so the birds are not easy prey. Will be interesting to see if this behaviour continues after this year!

  8. It’s mid Sep in Ontario and our 4-6 red squirrels are squawking and racing to get in provisions for the coming months. We recently blocked them off from using our roof soffits,and now they are franticly and noisily searching for new safe havens. Are there raccoon-proof shelters we can built to help them, or so they prefer to winter high in the oaks and pines?

    1. Hi Don,
      Thank you so much for reaching out. You could provide them with a couple of squirrel nest boxes, they may or may not use these though, but it’s definitely an option. They may have been stashing food in the roof which could be causing them the distress you explain. Hope this helps, thank you!

  9. Hi there just read your interesting thread on red squirrels. We live in Spain (Valencia area) and jave just noticed a pair of RS this year in the pine trees which surround our house. Unfortunately they were eating into our water pipes. So after repairing tjem 3 times we left a camera and discovered the RS. My husband now leaves them a supply of water..and often food! They’ve left the pipes alone and stolen most of our almonds but we get a lot of pleasure watching them in the trees.

    1. That’s wonderful to hear that you are able to live alongside the squirrels and enjoy their behaviour. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  10. My neighbour has just removed a woodpile that has been home to red squirrels for over 6-7 years. On my side of the fence, I am trying to build o new home for them,,,in a large planter corner that holds junipers. I have piled small logs, built pine cone leaf mulch around the logs, put out some straw, cotton and shredded tissue. What else can I do….for his nest and to replace his food supply? What kind of nuts should I stuff in his ‘new’ (?) home….almonds, pine, walnuts., shelled or unshelled….AND HOW MUCH? What amount would needed for the whole winter? Please. give me any and all suggestions, helpful hints,etc. Thank you so very much. Bonnie

    1. Hi Bonnie, it’s likely that the squirrels have other food stashes than just the one in the woodpile. They often have a few caches of food to get them through the winter. If you want to supplement their food, sunflower seeds, unsalted peanuts (sparingly), almonds, pine nuts etc. If you keep a squirrel feeder stocked throughout the winter, this should be plenty to help them alongside their other caches of food. Thank you!

  11. We have been feeding gray (and occasionally black) squirrels for many years here in Northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan.
    Recently, they have disappeared and all we’re seeing now are red squirrels.
    Since I recently saw a gray squirrel sitting high up in one of our trees without coming down, I’m wondering if these new red squirrels are chasing away our friendly grays.
    They’re very pretty, but I want our grays back, since they lived here for many years.
    What can we do?

    1. Hi Carolyn! Wow, it’s usually the other way round that grey squirrels move in on red squirrels, not reds on greys. Typically, grey squirrels are more dominant than red squirrels so it could be something else that is deterring the grey squirrels from your yard. Could someone in your area be trapping them? This is sadly a common case for grey squirrels. Maybe check around in your neighbourhood and see if your neighbours are still seeing greys?

      1. Hello: In two places I lived in NB, the red squirrel was definitely the dominant over a grey and black squirrel. The grey squirrel was curiously crawling on it’s belly under our bird feeder, then the red squirrel jumped on it from the tree. All you could see was a bawl of fur twirling on the ground, the grey ran off. The black squirrel was on our deck and the same, Little Red came dashing out of the night-light bird nest and ran him off.

        1. Hi Elaine, how interesting! Most eastern grey squirrels are quite a bit larger that the red squirrels, and will eventually outcompete them (though red squirrels are certainly spunky when it comes to one-on-one fights).

  12. This is the first fall that I am aware off red squirrels running along our fence and skirting up our (now) lager spruce trees. I want them to stick around and intend to feed them occasionally.
    If I buy a bag of wild bird food, will this be a suitable treat?

    1. Hi Roger,
      Yes, they will definitely go for the bird seed, especially in the winter months. Enjoy having them in your area, they can be a delight to watch 🙂

  13. I had one red squirrel and chipmunk at my last home we just move from Québec to New-Brunswick few weeks ago i was wishing so much having them around and i have my red squirrel already just love them because they are territorial and no gray or black squirrels will come around if so they jump on them like rawwwwr go away i saw it, i noticed from my last home that black and gray quirrels , tourterelles, doves and some others birds dispappeared completely since few years i couldn,t find any information about what happen, just love nature and now got a new area to observe and make new friends

  14. I saw a red squirrel go into a known chipmunk hole. Will the chipmunk be safe? Will the squirrel eat any babies that may be there?

    1. Hi Penny, it’s hard to say. It’s possible, but the squirrel could be on the hunt for other areas to stash food etc. Chipmunks are very fast and can hold their own quite well.

  15. We returned to Oakville, ON from Florida 6 weeks early this year due to COVID 19 and discovered 2 very active red squirrels in our yard. Haven’t seen any RSs in S Ontario for years.
    The resident chipmunk, numerous greys and blacks all seem to still visit regularly but the red is kept busy trying to ‘control’ his new territory. Haven’t seen the second RS for weeks – maybe raising a litter?
    Birds and all squirrels loving the 2 water sources we’ve added for bathing and drinking. Can’t believe how much the drink every day!

    1. Very cool, thank you for sharing! It could be because the red squirrels are birthing their young that you are seeing them less, it’s wildlife baby season now that spring has sprung! 🙂

  16. I live at the foot of Georgian Bay, Ontario. I put out feed everyday at 6:00 am then sit back and watch the theatrics. The red squirrels chase every other squirrel, blacks and greys and especially the chipmunks, ferociously away from all the feeders. There is one grey and one black that fight back. All the rest seem absolutely terrified of them. The others do manage to get some seed eventually but the certainly have to work for it.

    1. Hi Janet, thank you for sharing! It’s so interesting to watch wildlife and see their behaviour. We’re so lucky to have wildlife all around us.

  17. We are in Burlington, Ontario and have been making friends and feeding a red squirrel for a few weeks.
    I named her Vivi and she comes when I call and has learned to eat peanuts right out of my hand.
    Never seen a partnerRS. She has pronounced nipples. Is she a girl? Has she had her litter ?
    I see her in the park every day. What other interesting food could I bring to her?

    1. She could have young right now, it’s prime wildlife baby season. If she hasn’t had them yet, she most likely will over the next few days 🙂

  18. I live in Ottawa, Ontario, in a constantly expanding suburban area. The critters around here have a nice fenced-in space between a condominium and the road. Living on an elevated first floor my balcony gives me access to feed the squirrels for 3 years now. I loved feeding pistachios to the greys (although 85% of them around here are jet black) and they used to come up from different litters and territories to eat quite peacefully. While I’ve spotted a handful who live here, this year a group of red squirrels have been living in a tree closest to my place. They are super territorial, despite being the size of large house mice, and there’s always at least 5-6 together at once. I know these are likely newborn litters, however they have pushed all the grey squirrels away. 2 Groundhogs moved in this spring near the road, but that’s a hundred feet away. Did the red squirrels gentrify the area, did groundhogs do it, or something else? Now oddly enough, only chipmunks stick around, just one of them can have 3 handfuls of nuts in its mouth in 45 seconds. I don’t really like the red squirrels, and they don’t seem to like my nuts. It’s just not the same relationship

  19. Hi i am doing a red squirrel project for school and I was wondering if you had any facts about the red squirrels adaptions to their habitat.

  20. I am doing a presentation on red squirrels and I was wondering if you knew any adaptions that they have to their habitat.

  21. Do they attack people? I know this is strange. Im in WA state & I feed birds & squirrels from a platform feeder on my deck. The red squirrels especially know my feeding “schedule” & are waiting! This morning a pair were waiting . One climbed up the deck furniture and was staring eagerly. – got very close. Then it jumped down & started to kind of charge at my ankles. . I scooped the food ‘& tossed it off to distract. It held its ground till I escaped back in the house. The actions didn’t feel friendly (or very very appreciative!). Appreciate any help in understanding why? Thanks

  22. Hi there,
    I hale from SW Ontario. Had a red squirrel in my mower shed. It filled the shed with spruce cones and lived there all fall, winter and part of May. I was not concerned about the squirrel being in the shed as there is no wiring. And, I was enjoying watching it flit from tree to tree. But it seems to be gone now. I have not seen it squished on the road. Did it just move on? Was hoping it would stay around. Thx.

    1. Hi Dianne, the squirrel could have moved on, or could have been predated on by another animal. If you have a good habitat for red squirrels, it probably won’t be long before another one comes along to set up home 🙂

  23. I have been feeding a red squirrel for some time, but today I noticed a deer mouse eating the peanut, or storing them. How can I get rid of the mouse and not harm the squirrel?

    1. Hi Ralph, while there is a food source, you will attract more than one animal. We’d advise leaving the mouse be, and there should be plenty of food around for both animals.

  24. I’ve had a squirrel family living in my shed for years. Which is A-ok with me (we don’t go in there very often) but it is starting to fall apart. I would like to tear this one down and put a new one up (they can live in the new one of they want) but if they’re constantly going in and out of the current shed, when do you think would be the best time to remove it?

    1. Hi Chanelle, thank you for thinking about the squirrel family. Late summer would be the best time, check their are no young in there and there are no caches of food in the shed first and all should be good.

  25. Hello there! We’ve got a plethora of wildlife galavanting around in our backyard here in Michigan, including red squirrels. My father SWEARS they are mean and bite off the tails of other squirrels. I have seen a squirrel or two around here missing their tails… but could it really be that an adorable little red squirrel was the culprit? I find that hard to believe!

    1. Hi, we aren’t aware that they do this but it could be possible. There are a lot of hazards to wildlife, including squirrels, that could be the cause of the tail loss.

  26. Meredith Mooney

    Hi, I’m in Central Indiana. I spend a lot of time at our camper and there’s quite a few little red-tailed squirrels running about. I was thinking about making a feeder for them but not sure what kind to make or just what to put in it. We put bars of Irish Spring soap inside the camper to keep them out year round so they don’t tear anything up, but I love to watch them play up and down the trees and in and out of the wood piles.

    1. Please call our Wildlife Hotline for advice at 403-946-2361 as we can better assist over the phone. Thank you!

  27. Hi there. We have a very busy rs at our cottage. It has finally given up the nest inside the shed and found a spot in a tree. When cleaning out it’s nest I found 3 large, very dead mice . Is it possible that this was a food stash? What else might explain the carnage? Thanks!

  28. Hello! I live in central indiana about 5 miles from a nature preserve park on a little under an acre of property. I have had increasing numbers of red squirrels for the past few years. Initially only 1 but this morning we saw 6 beautiful little creatures! They are very skittish but they enjoy eating black oil sunflower seeds the birds drop from the feeders. They’ll stick around as long as you stay still. I think they’ve stayed away from my inpatients and other flowers because of the seeds. I enjoy these little squirrels much more than the larger ones. 🙂

  29. Daniel Trenholm

    Hello, I live in St. Paul, Minnesota. I have 2 red squirrel females who give birth regularly in the last 3 years. Is there any way to keep the babies around longer. It seems they chase them off in time. I provide food and squirrel boxes, and love having them around! Or should I just accept nature? Thanks Dan

    1. Hi Daniel, it’s great to hear you enjoy having the squirrels around. It is normal for the young to naturally disperse, but they don’t move far. There’s not much more that you can do to keep them around, let nature take its course and enjoy the family 🙂

  30. I live in Washington State and we enjoy feeding the Grey squirrels in our yard. We have just recently received a new little red visitor. He is so adorable. How come there is only one and why is he so small? The Greys all run from him he is a fiesty little fella. Will the Greys make him sick?

    1. Hi Jennifer! Red squirrels are smaller than grey squirrels. The grey squirrels shouldn’t make him sick. Enjoy! 🙂

  31. What is the smallest size hole a red squirrel can get in? We found our bird houses had all been chewed on and the nesting swallows had gone.

    1. Hi Marilyn, it’s hard to say, we don’t have an exact measurement on hand. Squirrels can be resourceful so it’s possible they could have entered this size of a hole and entered the nest box.

  32. I’m in Iowa and used to have nothing but gray squirrels. Then several years ago I noticed a few red and a couple years after that a lot of black ones. The last 2 or 3 years I’ve had nothing but red and black and quite a few black with red tails! This year for the first time in a while, I have gray ones again. They’re fun to watch but SO destructive…they destroy all my potted plants and I can’t count how many times I’ve seen one scampering across the fence with a begonia hanging out of its mouth. Is there anything that can keep them from digging up plants? I’ve tried red pepper flakes but it didn’t help. Thanks.

    1. Hi Linda, you can try blocking access to the plants, can also use chicken wire or mesh around the plants too. You can also offer distractions, such as putting a squirrel feeder elsewhere in your yard. I hope this helps!

  33. Hi,
    I have a lot of gray squirrels and only ONE red squirrel in my backyard, I am in Dayton OH. I thought it could be a male because is always alone. This squirrel jumps from my bird feeder to the closest tree every minute, back and forth… The other gray squirrels seem to be fine with this one. I wonder why there is only one? it is normal to have only one of them? How it can mate? Thanks!

    1. Hi Keloo, it could be that this squirrel is a young of the year and has disbursed from a family group nearby. He/she will find their way and as long as they are in good health now, all should be well 🙂

  34. I live in Toronto, Ontario and it has been an incredible year locked down with these cute little animals, so feisty, territorial, intelligent….I have taught all of them how to hand feed and I am able to call them with a clicking sound and they come running. I stated feeding the mother and she had two babies in May and another two in September, started hand feeding them as well…lots of different personalities, some are really gentle and cautious, other are grab and go…I finally got to patting the last one remaining as the others had moved on…its incredible how far they can jump for such a small creature….

  35. hello, I am in Edmonton and am wondering how far and high red squirrels can jump? Most articles I find are about the Eastern Grey squirrel’s agility. I am curious, as I am a birder and want to put some peanuts out to attract Blue Jays.

    1. Hi Tracey, great question! Red squirrels can jump a lot farther than most people realize – generally speaking, it can be up to 5 feet vertically and more than 6 feet horizontally. You should be safe if you put your feeder on a smooth metal pole (so they can’t climb up it), more than 5 feet high, and at least 7 feet away from any ledges, fences, or tree branches that the squirrels could use as a jumping-off point. Hope that helps!

  36. Hey, how far North do red squirrels live? Are there any in the Northwest Territories? Maybe I will ask my upstairs neighbour if she saw any up there.

    1. Hi Roger,

      Red squirrels can live very far north – they don’t venture out onto the ice sheets, but most of the Arctic tundra is fair game for them, and they can definitely be found in the NWT.

  37. Hi, I live in North Dakota and we have several red squirrels in our yard. Earlier this year the red squirrel started gifting me cherry tomatoes from my garden. These gifts are placed by my door, neatly in a row. I thought it was cute at first. But now I have a problem. The squirrel is gifting me insulation from behind my metal siding. Tufts of insulation placed all in a row by the door. How do I discourage this behavior?

    1. Hi Jackie, it sounds like there may be a hole or other access point where the squirrel is getting behind your siding – if they’re leaving bits for you, they’re almost certainly using some for themselves to line their nest. Make sure you block off all the possible spots they could be getting in; if you notice a nesting site, make sure to watch the squirrel leave before blocking it up to ensure you don’t accidentally trap the squirrel in your house! Also, are you feeding the squirrels at all? Even leaving a bird feeder out that they can access will encourage them to stick around your area, so we’d definitely recommend removing anything like that too. Hope this helps, but please feel free to e-mail us at education@aiwc.ca if you want to chat about the issue further.

  38. Hi and thanks for educating all of us on Squirrels!….we live facing one of the many ravine systems in Edmonton and I’ve just gone out to fill my feeder high up in the trees which we can view from our second floor condo window. I have some questions after watching my “Fluffy” enjoy his/her peanuts every Sunday morning. So..

    Is there anyway from a distance to differentiate a female from a male?
    After mating, who stays in the territory?…do they remain single until mating again?
    I do shake the peanut bag and tell him there is a full feeder but how does he know, and sit on the branch waiting for me to hoist up his full feeder every Sunday.
    And lastly for now…the Magpies will try to get into it but Fluffy comes racing to the tree and scares them off. I know Ravens will attack them but will Magpies?

    Thanks so much for your info and Time

    Rory Armstrong
    Edmonton Ab

    1. Hi Rory, thanks so much for commenting! Glad you’re enjoying the blog. To answer your questions:
      – The only real way to differentiate males from females is to look closely at their behind areas, which is very hard to do from a distance, so it’s pretty well impossible to say for sure one way or the other
      – Red squirrels are very territorial, so it’s just one squirrel per territory (aside from females rearing their young, of course). Males will visit the territories of neighbouring females to mate, but take off again almost immediately!
      – Red squirrels have very good memories (which helps them remember where they cache their food), so they are probably just remembering that you come out to refill the feeder on Sunday
      – Magpies will go after injured squirrels, but an angry and healthy adult is far more trouble that it is worth for them!

      Hope this helps, and feel free to e-mail us at education@aiwc.ca if you have any more questions.

      1. So Katrina would you think Fluffy is likely a female ….a 50/50 thing?….are there any behaviours that would lead to one sex over the other?

        1. Hi Rory, the best behavioural indication of a female would be if the squirrel is looking after babies in the spring! Otherwise, males and females act fairly similarly in their day-to-day behaviour, so they can be difficult to distinguish without a physical exam.

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