Wildlife Spotlight: American Red Squirrel

American red squirrel

Get to know Squirrels in the Watershed

We see squirrels every day. Whether they’re foraging for food, chasing a mate across the road or leaping between tree branches, there’s no mistaking a squirrel when we see it. But, did you know that there is more than one kind of squirrel in the Credit River Watershed? The eastern grey squirrel is usually the squirrel we see, but the watershed is also home to American red squirrels. Discover interesting facts about red squirrels:

Red Squirrel Appearance

  • They are small in size, measuring between 28 to 35 centimetres in length, including their tail. They are smaller than a grey squirrel.
  • They usually have a bushy tail, reddish brown fur, white underbelly and a white ring of fur around their eyes.
  • They’re a tree squirrel. This means they live in treed habitat, nest in trees and escape to trees when threatened, which is most likely where you can spot them.
  • Their typical habitat is forest made up primarily of coniferous tress (such as pine, spruce and cedar) and mixed forests with both deciduous and coniferous trees.
Squirrel climbing down a tree trunk.
Their red bodies are often easy to spot against the contrast of bark.

Red Squirrel Behaviour

  • Because red squirrels don’t hibernate in the winter, they must collect food all year to help get them through the cold months.
  • In the winter, they eat conifer seeds, like pinecones. They collect cones to create large food reserves for later in the year when it’s cold.
  • Squirrels eat the seeds and drop the scales from the cones into piles called middens. You may have seen these piles at the base of tree trunks. They often reuse the same locations year after year to store their food.
Pinecone laying on grass.
Pinecones contain many seeds that are released when the cone has matured.
  • Red squirrels are territorial, especially when compared to the grey squirrel and eastern chipmunk. When other squirrels come into their territory, they will make loud noises, stamp their feet and shake their tail. They act this way to compensate for their smaller size and to defend their food.
  • Conifer seeds are harder to find in the winter. This leads to red squirrels behaving aggressively especially while they are collecting and defending their cone stockpiles.
  • Both male and female defend their territory year-round.  

Red Squirrel Habitat

  • Red squirrels prefer to nest in conifer trees and build their nests using grass, moss and shreds of bark.
  • Nests are built in tree branches with dense vegetation growth or in cavities of trees.
  • They also make use of bird nest boxes by chewing the box open to gain access. To deter red squirrels from using bird nest boxes, install nest boxes on metal poles with a predator guard and keep the nest box away from trees, fences or anything else they can climb or jump from.
Squirrel and squirrel nest on tree branch.
American red squirrel nests can often be mistaken as a bird’s nest.

American red squirrels are all around us. They’re most active during the day and busiest during autumn when they’re preparing for the long winter ahead. Squirrels have an important role in our ecosystem and contribute to forest health by moving seeds and influencing the types of tree species growing in a forest.

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By Kimberley Laird, Associate, Marketing and Communications

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