Quick facts

Common names: red squirrel, Eurasian red squirrel
Scientific name: Sciurus vulgaris
Family: Sciuridae
Habitat: coniferous, mixed and broadleaved woodland
Diet: nuts, seeds, tree shoots and other plant matter
Predators: pine marten, birds of prey, foxes and stoats
Origin: native

What do red squirrels look like?

The red squirrel is famed for its orange-red fur, but is actually quite variable in colour, ranging from vivid ginger to dark brown. In winter, the fur is often tinged with grey and large tufts develop above the ears. Red squirrels have a large bushy tail that is almost as long as their body.

Not to be confused with: the grey squirrel. Colour is the obvious difference here, but there can be some overlap between the species, with greyish-red squirrels and reddish-grey squirrels sometimes occurring. Grey squirrels never have tufted ears and are significantly larger, weighing around 540g, compared to just 300g for red squirrels. The tail of red squirrel is always exclusively one colour, while a grey squirrel tail often contains several colours.

Red squirrel nibbling pine cone

Credit: Anne-Marie Kalus / WTML

What do red squirrels eat?

Red squirrels rely on trees for food, with their diet mainly made up of seeds and nuts. Pine seeds are a particular favourite, but they will also take hazelnuts, green acorns and the seeds of larch and spruce. Also eaten are fruit, tree shoots, bark, lichen and fungi. Young birds and eggs may be taken, but this is rare. In autumn, squirrels will bury seeds and nuts, ready to be eaten in winter when food is scarce.

Did you know?

Red squirrels do not hibernate, although they may be less active in winter.

How do red squirrels breed?

Before mating, males will follow females in prolonged chases through the trees and females will often mate with more than one partner. The young are born in a nest known as a drey. Dreys are located high up in trees and made from twigs and lined with moss, leaves and other soft materials. Up to six young are normally born in spring and they will begin foraging for their own food after around 10 weeks.

Red squirrel peeking around a tree branch

Credit: John Bridges / WTML

Where do red squirrels live?

Red squirrels need woodland to survive and can be found in coniferous, broadleaved and mixed woodland. They were once found across the UK, but have disappeared from most of the country due to the introduction of grey squirrels. Now red squirrels are confined to Scotland, pockets of northern England and Wales and small islands off England’s south coast. The species can still be found across much of Ireland, but its range is shrinking there too.

Did you know?

Double-jointed ankles mean red squirrels can move up and down trees with ease.

Signs and spotting tips

The best time to spot red squirrels is in autumn, when they are busy searching for food to see them through the winter. Be prepared to look up, as red squirrels spend most of their time in trees, coming down to ground level far less often than their grey counterparts.

Red squirrel silhouette on woodland floor

Credit: Scotland The Big Picture / naturepl.com

Threats and conservation

Red squirrels have undergone one of the most drastic declines of all UK mammals. This is largely due to the introduction of non-native grey squirrels in the early 20th century. The larger greys are able to outcompete reds and they also carry the squirrelpox virus, which they are immune to, but which is fatal to reds. Reds have now disappeared from most of England and Wales. There are an estimated 287,000 red squirrels in Britain, compared to 2.7 million greys. The Woodland Trust is helping to conserve the red squirrel by protecting its habitat. We support grey squirrel management in red-squirrel areas  We have also backed research that suggests the recovery of pine martens could help boost red squirrel numbers.

Did you know?

Red squirrels can jump more than 2m – not bad for an animal with a body length of less than 25cm!

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