Squirrel fact file

Squirrels belong to a large family of small or medium-sized rodents called the Sciuridae. The family includes tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, flying squirrels, and prairie dogs.

Where are squirrels found?

Squirrels are indigenous to the Americas, Eurasia, and Africa and have been introduced to Australia. Unlike rabbits or deer, squirrels cannot feed upon cellulose and must rely on foods rich in protein, carbohydrates and fat. 

In temperate regions, early spring is the hardest time of year for squirrels because buried nuts begin to sprout and are no longer available for the squirrel to eat and new food sources have not become available yet. 

During these times squirrels rely heavily on the buds of trees. The tree squirrel’s diet consists primarily of a wide variety of plant food; this includes nuts, seeds, conifer cones, fruits, fungi and green vegetation. 

However some squirrels also consume meat, especially when faced with hunger. Squirrels have been known to eat insects, eggs and young birds.

The native European Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

Red squirrel leaning on stone

Body length 20-22cm
Weight 250-300g
Colour Variable: bright red to dark brown, often with 'bleached' tail and ears, with a paler belly
Ears Tufted in winter
Habitat Predominently restricted to coniferous forest
Diet Seeds, nuts, buds, fungi and berries
Breeding 1-2 litters with 3-4 kittens
Pox virus Very susceptible - most dies within 10-14 days of infection
Range Northern European, however subspecies extaned across Asia

The non-native Eastern Grey Squirrel or Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Grey squirrel

Body length 25-27cm
Weight 600g
Colour Variable: normally grey, often with hints of reds, browns and in some places black. All generally with a paler belly
Ears Never tufted
Habitat Largely broad-leafed forest or parkland. Can use mature hedgerows and gardens
Diet Wide ranging, similar to red, plus large seeds, acorns, bulbs, flowers, human food and contents of bird feeders
Breeding 2-4 litters with 4-6 kittens
Pox virus Carrier but largely unaffected
Range Eastern United States and southern Canada. Introduced to Ireland, UK, Italy and South Africa (was eradicated from Australia 1973)
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