Squirrels – Britain’s natural tree planters

red squirrel sat on a feeding box eating

Have you ever caught sight of a squirrel caching an acorn? You can almost feel their secret glee as they check their surroundings from the corner of their eyes and successfully bury that winter’s stash. And you immediately remember why we like to use the phrase ‘to squirrel something away’. 

But as well as storing a future food source for themselves, squirrels are actually providing a secondary service to us all. As Simon himself says, “Love them or hate them, squirrels play an essential role in the ecosystem services of the British Isles. Without squirrels and jays, there would be no natural tree planters.”

We can all help to protect the Red Squirrel population by providing food and habitats in the northern parts of England and across Scotland. And for those who enjoy watching grey squirrels in their gardens, the provision of food can help to deter squirrels from your bird feeders. Read on to find out more about the squirrels that might visit your garden.

What do squirrels eat?

Red squirrels are a little less flexible with their diet than greys. They like to eat pine seeds, acorns, hazelnuts, fungi and bark. Grey squirrels have a similar diet but the success of the greys is driven by their flexibility and adaptability. They will eat a wide range of plant products and are adept foragers and expert hoarders.

It’s this caching of acorns and other seeds which provides an essential role in our ecosystem. When seeds are plentiful, squirrels will work hard to collect and hoard as many as possible and cache them in a large number of locations. Although they appear to have an incredible ability to find these caches when food sources are less plentiful, it’s inevitable that some are missed. This is the perfect natural tree planting practice that is essential for our ecosystem.

Should I feed squirrels in my garden?

grey squirrel at feeder

Supplementing the diet of squirrels with additional nuts can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Their inquisitive behaviour is fascinating to observe and providing a separate food source for them can take the pressure off your bird feeders! We have carefully designed squirrel feeders which squirrels quickly learn to interact with and provide perfect viewing from your kitchen window. They’re designed to prevent bird access and so you can feed your squirrels and enjoy, whilst freeing up your other feeders for birds.

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What should I feed squirrels?

A mixture of nuts and seeds is best for squirrels. They will cache some of the larger nuts and you might be lucky to see this behaviour. They’ve even been known to pretend to fake cache if they think they’re being watched!

Where do squirrels sleep?

Squirrels live in nests known as dreys. They usually consist of a mass of sticks, twigs and leaves formed into a ball like shape up in a tree between branches. They’re lined with softer materials such as feathers and mosses to protect from the elements. They may also take advantage of natural tree features and existing holes as well. 

Do squirrels hibernate?

Neither grey or red squirrels hibernate as such in the winter. They instead significantly reduce their activity to the bare minimum in colder periods and sleep for the rest of the time.

What is the difference between a red squirrel and a grey?

Aside from the usual difference in colour (although both can have variations), red squirrels are smaller, approximately 300g verses 550g. The tail of a grey squirrel can contain several different colours whereas the red squirrel is just one colour. Red squirrels often have very distinctive tufted ears whereas greys do not.

Where can you see squirrels in the UK?

Red squirrel populations have fallen significantly since the introduction of the grey squirrel to the UK in the 1870’s. Their populations are now largely restricted to Scotland, Northumberland, Cumbria, Anglesey, pockets of mid-Wales, Northern Ireland, and on islands such as Brownsea. Greys are common throughout the UK with the exception of the north and west of Scotland.

Why are red squirrels under threat?

This is sadly due to competition and disease from grey squirrels. Greys carry a pox virus that does not affect them but unfortunately kills red squirrels. Grey squirrels are also able to consume green acorns more readily than red squirrels and so can decimate food supplies for reds who prefer to wait for them to turn brown.

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