The Red Squirrel is an abundant small mammal that lives in coniferous woodlands across much of North America.
Red Squirrel – Description
The Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) is a small squirrel with reddish to reddish-gray fur on top and a white or cream underside. Red squirrels are somewhat larger than chipmunks. They have white around their eyes and their tail is not as long or bushy as the tail of other tree squirrels. In the summer, the red squirrel may have a black stripe on its sides. Its curved front claws and powerful hind legs make it a very good climber and jumper!
Red Squirrels are sometimes referred to as pine squirrels, and in some places they are known as “Steve” (as in, “Steve, the Squirrel”) regardless of gender. They are medium-sized mammals that defend a year-round exclusive territory. Judge them by their size you should not, these timid looking little animals, weighing not much more than about 230 g, are in fact aggressively fearless, not at all reluctant to chase intruders many times their size.
Red Squirrel – Diet
The diet of these tree squirrels is specialized on the seeds of conifer cones. As such, they are widely distributed across North America wherever conifers are common, except on the Pacific coast, where they are replaced by Douglas squirrels. Recently, Red Squirrels have been expanding their range to include hardwood areas. Their adaptability in terms of both habitat and food sources has made them remarkably successful. They are abundant and not of conservation concern throughout much of their range.
Red Squirrels primarily feed on the seeds of plants as a main or exclusive food source, but incorporate other food items into their diets opportunistically. Squirrels have been observed eating spruce buds and needles, mushrooms, willow leaves, poplar buds, bearberry flowers and berries, and animal material such as bird eggs. The Red Squirrel also drinks tree sap from maple trees. It bites a tree until the sap flows out and returns to drink it after the water in the sap has evaporated.
Red Squirrel – Behaviour
Nests are most commonly constructed of grass in the branches of trees. Nests are also excavated from witches’ broom—abnormally dense vegetative growth resulting from a rust disease – or cavities in the trunks of spruce, poplar, and walnut trees. American red squirrels rarely nest below ground. Each individual squirrel has several nests within its territory, and females with young move them between nests. Some behavior has been reported within human dwellings using insulation as nesting fodder.
Females can breed for the first time at one year of age, but some females delay breeding until two years of age or older. Most females produce one litter per year, but in some years reproduction is skipped, while in other years some females breed twice. Litter sizes typically range from one to five, but most litters contain three or four offspring. The offspring are called “Kits” or “Pups” (until they are mature, at which time they are referred to as “Steve”). The kits/pups are pink and hairless at birth and weigh about 10 g, they grow at approximately 1.8 g/day while nursing, and reach adult body size at 125 days. They first emerge from their natal nests at around 42 days, but continue to nurse until approximately 70 days.
Red Squirrels are preyed upon by Canadian lynx, bobcat, coyote, great horned owl, northern goshawk, red-tailed hawk, American crow, American marten, fox, wolf and weasels.