Slightly smaller than the grey squirrel, the red squirrel is most easily recognised by its red coat. They have strong back legs and a long bushy tail as well as long red ear tufts in mid-winter.
Diurnal species. Solitary but not territorial and outside of breeding season have been known to share nests (known as dreys) to stay warm. Their dreys are constructed of twigs, lined with moss, grass and hair.
Squirrels are well known for their incessant nut collecting and storage (caching), often burying them in the ground or in small holes within trees. However, not all caches are remembered and recollected which can provide tree germinating opportunities and reforestation.
Once common throughout the UK, now are extinct in southern England (except Isle of Wight and Poole harbour islands). Wales also has isolated populations (e.g. Anglesey). The stronghold in the UK is Northern England, Scotland and Ireland, although even those populations are declining.
Historically, habitat loss and fragmentation have been the main threats to this species. In the UK and some parts of Europe, the presence of the non-native grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is the main threat. Grey squirrels out compete red squirrels for food but also carry the squirrel pox virus, which is fatal to red squirrels.
Large global range from the UK across to Northeast China. It is also found on pacific islands. Widespread within Europe except in the UK and the Iberian Peninsula.
Prefers coniferous forests. Also occurs in mixed forests, deciduous forests, parks and gardens.
Vegetarian, mainly consuming tree seeds and nuts such as hazelnuts. Berries, fungi and some young shoots are also eaten. Some records of red squirrels eating small birds or eggs.
We have a history of successful breeding of red squirrels year on year which has contributed to UK reintroduction projects. For more information on our Red Squirrel captive breeding and reintroductions visit our conservation page.
Did you know?
Red squirrels are not always red; they can also be black, brown or even white.