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/
  • http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/mammals/rabbits-rodents/red-squirrel.aspx

28 responses to “Six Things to Know about Red Squirrels!”

  1. Steve says:

    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. editor says:

    Hello Steve,
    There are many ways to humanely deter squirrels from causing damage to a home, and without having to relocate them. If your neighbour is open to it, we’d definitely recommend this resource: http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/squirrels/tips/solving_problems_squirrels.html?credit=web_id83645084 Hope this helps!

  3. kim says:

    is the red squirrel a keystone species and how ?

  4. editor says:

    Squirrels definitely can be considered a keystone species as they are the primary food source for many animals 🙂

  5. Daphne says:

    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 .

  6. Mel says:

    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.

  7. editor says:

    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!

  8. Florence says:

    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?

  9. editor says:

    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!

  10. John P Nightingale says:

    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.

  11. editor says:

    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! 🙂

  12. Cynthia Jamieson says:

    Will red squirrels attack chipmunks

  13. editor says:

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

  14. Rachel Jean says:

    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.

  15. Alex says:

    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?

  16. editor says:

    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!

  17. Don says:

    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?

  18. Lynda says:

    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.

  19. editor says:

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

  20. editor says:

    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!

  21. Bonnie says:

    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

  22. editor says:

    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!

  23. Bonnie says:

    Thank you,

  24. Carolyn says:

    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?

  25. editor says:

    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?

  26. Roger says:

    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?

  27. editor says:

    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 🙂

  28. Pianza says:

    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

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