Red squirrels are Scotland’s native squirrel species, instantly recognisable by their distinctive ear tufts, rust coloured fur and bushy tails. The tail is particularly important as it’s used for balance, communication and as a cosy blanket.
In Scotland there are around 120,000 red squirrels in the wild and RSPB Scotland is part of a project, called Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS), to protect these mammals and enhance the habitats they live in. SSRS is led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Here are five fascinating facts we thought you’d enjoy about red squirrels.
Red squirrels don’t hibernate
Many people think that red squirrels do hunker down and hibernate when the cold weather starts setting in but really, they are just far less active in winter. This is because they are using a lot of energy just to stay warm. Red squirrels do store and bury food over winter though, to make sure they can sustain themselves until nuts, seeds and berries become more plentiful again in the spring time.
Red squirrels like to keep their options open
This is much more innocent than it might sound at first. Red squirrels keep more than one nest (known as a drey) on the go at any one time. They’re not hiding secret squirrel families though. The reason they do it is for more of a backup in case the first nest they've made gets stolen by another creature or is blown away in bad weather. Having more than one home base also makes it more difficult for predators to locate them.
They like the finer things in food
Red squirrels are quite clever and can even tell if a nut is rotten without opening it. They do this by weighing a potentially tasty morsel in their paws and shaking it; if the nut rattles this tells the squirrel that the kernel inside is likely to be small and shrivelled, so is not really worth eating.
Reds have learned to ‘be more dog’
By this we mean they use their tufty ears to express how they’re feeling, from happy or sad to nervous. It’s a bit like dogs use their heads, ears and of course tails to do!
They have double-jointed ankles
Squirrels are extremely well adapted to their woodland habitat in Scotland. They’re nimble, agile and can jump more than 2m. Reds can even travel headfirst down a tree at a pretty impressive pace, because of their double-jointed ankles. This adaptation allows them to turn their feet around and dig their claws into the tree bark, no matter what direction they’re travelling in.
I'd be interested to know what the situation is concerning grey squirrels in Scotland. Have they spread further north or is that hearsay? Just for the record I hope they haven't.