Red squirrel

The red squirrel or Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is a species of tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus common throughout Eurasia. The red squirrel is an arboreal, omnivorous rodent.

In Great Britain, Ireland, and in Italy numbers have decreased drastically in recent years. This decline is associated with the introduction by humans of the eastern grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) from North America. However, the population in Scotland is stabilising[3] due to conservation efforts, awareness and the increasing population of the pine marten, a European predator that selectively controls grey squirrels.[4][5]

Red squirrel
Squirrel posing
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciuridae
Genus: Sciurus
S. vulgaris
Binomial name
Sciurus vulgaris

23 recognized, see text[2]

Sciurus vulgaris habitat
Red squirrel range


Sciurus vulgaris 02 MWNH 579
Skull of a red squirrel
Squirrel (17026400639)
Underparts are generally white-cream-coloured
Eichhörnchen 007
In the Austrian and Swiss Alps, this species usually has brown-black fur, except for its white belly
Red squirrel in Kuusijarvi lake in Finland.
MattiParkkonen Orava
Profile of the Eurasian red squirrel in grey winter coat

The red squirrel has a typical head-and-body length of 19 to 23 cm (7.5 to 9 in), a tail length of 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 in), and a mass of 250 to 340 g (8.8 to 12.0 oz). Males and females are the same size. The red squirrel is somewhat smaller than the eastern grey squirrel which has a head-and-body length of 25 to 30 cm (10 to 12 in) and weighs between 400 and 800 g (14 oz and 1 lb 12 oz).

The long tail helps the squirrel to balance and steer when jumping from tree to tree and running along branches, and may keep the animal warm during sleep.[6]

The red squirrel, like most tree squirrels, has sharp, curved claws to enable it to climb and descend broad tree trunks, thin branches and even house walls. Its strong hind legs enable it to leap gaps between trees. The red squirrel also has the ability to swim.[7]

The coat of the red squirrel varies in colour with time of year and location. There are several different coat colour morphs ranging from black to red. Red coats are most common in Great Britain; in other parts of Europe and Asia different coat colours co-exist within populations, much like hair colour in some human populations. The underside of the squirrel is always white-cream in colour. The red squirrel sheds its coat twice a year, switching from a thinner summer coat to a thicker, darker winter coat with noticeably larger ear-tufts (a prominent distinguishing feature of this species) between August and November. A lighter, redder overall coat colour, along with the ear-tufts (in adults) and smaller size, distinguish the Eurasian red squirrel from the American eastern grey squirrel.[8][9][10]


Red Squirrel Urals
Red squirrel in the Urals region, grey winter coat

Red squirrels occupy boreal, coniferous woods in northern Europe and Siberia, preferring Scots pine, Norway spruce and Siberian pine. In western and southern Europe they are found in broad-leaved woods where the mixture of tree and shrub species provides a better year round source of food. In most of the British Isles and in Italy, broad-leaved woodlands are now less suitable due to the better competitive feeding strategy of introduced grey squirrels.[11]


Die vergleichende Osteologie (1821) Sciurus vulgaris
Skeleton of a squirrel

Mating can occur in late winter during February and March and in summer between June and July. Up to two litters a year per female are possible. Each litter averages three young, called kits.[12] Gestation is about 38 to 39 days. The young are looked after by the mother alone and are born helpless, blind and deaf. They weigh between 10 and 15  g. Their body is covered by hair at 21 days, their eyes and ears open after three to four weeks, and they develop all their teeth by 42 days. Juvenile red squirrels can eat solids around 40 days following birth and from that point can leave the nest on their own to find food; however, they still suckle from their mother until weaning occurs at 8 to 10 weeks.

During mating, males detect females that are in œstrus by an odor that they produce, and although there is no courtship, the male will chase the female for up to an hour prior to mating. Usually multiple males will chase a single female until the dominant male, usually the largest in the group, mates with the female. Males and females will mate multiple times with many partners. Females must reach a minimum body mass before they enter œstrus, and heavy females on average produce more young. If food is scarce breeding may be delayed. Typically a female will produce her first litter in her second year.

JJM SquirrelBaby 01
Two-week-old red squirrel

Life expectancy

Close up of a young red squirrel.

Red squirrels that survive their first winter have a life expectancy of 3 years. Individuals may reach 7 years of age, and 10 in captivity. Survival is positively related to availability of autumn–winter tree seeds; on average, 75–85% of juveniles die during their first winter, and mortality is approximately 50% for winters following the first.[13]

Ecology and behaviour

A red squirrel takes and loses a walnut

The red squirrel is found in both coniferous forest and temperate broadleaf woodlands. The squirrel makes a drey (nest) out of twigs in a branch-fork, forming a domed structure about 25 to 30 cm in diameter. This is lined with moss, leaves, grass and bark. Tree hollows and woodpecker holes are also used. The red squirrel is a solitary animal and is shy and reluctant to share food with others. However, outside the breeding season and particularly in winter, several red squirrels may share a drey to keep warm. Social organization is based on dominance hierarchies within and between sexes; although males are not necessarily dominant to females, the dominant animals tend to be larger and older than subordinate animals, and dominant males tend to have larger home ranges than subordinate males or females.[14]

A red squirrel eating

The red squirrel eats:

  • mostly the seeds of trees, neatly stripping conifer cones to get at the seeds within.
  • fungi
  • nuts (especially hazelnuts but also beech and chestnuts)
  • berries
  • young shoots[15]

More rarely, red squirrels may also eat bird eggs or nestlings. A Swedish study shows that out of 600 stomach contents of red squirrels examined, only 4 contained remnants of birds or eggs.[16][17] Thus, red squirrels may occasionally exhibit opportunistic omnivory, similarly to other rodents.

A red squirrel burying hazelnuts

Excess food is put into caches, either buried or in nooks or holes in trees, and eaten when food is scarce. Although the red squirrel remembers where it created caches at a better-than-chance level, its spatial memory is substantially less accurate and durable than that of grey squirrel;[18] it therefore will often have to search for them when in need, and many caches are never found again.

Between 60% and 80% of its active period may be spent foraging and feeding.[19] The active period for the red squirrel is in the morning and in the late afternoon and evening. It often rests in its nest in the middle of the day, avoiding the heat and the high visibility to birds of prey that are dangers during these hours. During the winter, this mid-day rest is often much more brief, or absent entirely, although harsh weather may cause the animal to stay in its nest for days at a time.

No territories are claimed between the red squirrels, and the feeding areas of individuals overlap considerably.

Enemies and threats

Sciurus vulgaris in snow - Helsinki, Finland
In snow in Helsinki

Arboreal predators include small mammals such as the pine marten, wildcats and the stoat, which preys on nestlings; birds, including owls and raptors such as the goshawk and buzzards, may also take the red squirrel. The red fox, cats and dogs can prey upon the red squirrel when it is on the ground. Humans influence the population size and mortality of the red squirrel by destroying or altering habitats, by causing road casualties, and by introducing non-native populations of the North American eastern grey squirrels.

The eastern grey squirrel and the red squirrel are not directly antagonistic, and violent conflict between these species is not a factor in the decline in red squirrel populations.[20] However, the eastern grey squirrel appears to be able to decrease the red squirrel population due to several reasons:

  • The eastern grey squirrel carries a disease, the squirrel parapoxvirus, that does not appear to affect their own health but will often kill the red squirrel. It was revealed in 2008 that the numbers of red squirrels at Formby (England) had declined by 80% as a result of this disease,[21] though the population is now recovering.[22]
  • The eastern grey squirrel can better digest acorns, while the red squirrel cannot access the proteins and fats in acorns as easily.[23]
  • When the red squirrel is put under pressure, it will not breed as often.

In the UK, due to the above circumstances, the population has today fallen to 160,000 red squirrels or fewer (120,000 of these are in Scotland).[24] Outside the UK and Ireland, the impact of competition from the eastern grey squirrel has been observed in Piedmont, Italy, where two pairs escaped from captivity in 1948. A significant drop in red squirrel populations in the area has been observed since 1970, and it is feared that the eastern grey squirrel may expand into the rest of Europe.

Conservation and strategies


Redsquirrel eating 2012
Winter coat, in England
Eichhörnchen Düsseldorf Hofgarten Crisco edit
In Germany

The red squirrel is protected in most of Europe, as it is listed in Appendix III of the Bern Convention; it is listed as being of least concern on the IUCN Red List. However, in some areas it is abundant and is hunted for its fur.

Although not thought to be under any threat worldwide, the red squirrel has nevertheless drastically reduced in number in the United Kingdom; especially after the grey squirrels were introduced from North America in the 1870s. Fewer than 140,000 individuals are thought to be left in 2013;[15] approximately 85% of which are in Scotland, with the Isle of Wight being the largest haven in England. A local charity, the Wight Squirrel Project,[25] supports red squirrel conservation on the island, and islanders are actively recommended to report any invasive greys. The population decrease in Britain is often ascribed to the introduction of the eastern grey squirrel from North America,[26] but the loss and fragmentation of its native woodland habitat has also played a role.

In contrast, the red squirrel may present a threat if introduced to regions outside its native range. It is classed as a "prohibited new organism" under New Zealand's Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 preventing it from being imported into the country.[27]


Protecting the red squirrel in Clocaenog Forest, Wales

In January 1998, eradication of the non-native North American grey squirrel began on the North Wales island of Anglesey. This facilitated the natural recovery of the small remnant red squirrel population. It was followed by the successful reintroduction of the red squirrel into the pine stands of Newborough Forest.[28] Subsequent reintroductions into broadleaved woodland followed and today the island has the single largest red squirrel population in Wales. Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour is also populated exclusively by red rather than grey squirrels (approximately 200 individuals).

Sciurus vulgaris Turku cemetery
In Finland
Sciurus vulgaris bearn 2001
With a brown coat

Mainland initiatives in southern Scotland and the north of England also rely upon grey squirrel control as the cornerstone of red squirrel conservation strategy. A local programme known as the "North East Scotland Biodiversity Partnership", an element of the national Biodiversity Action Plan was established in 1996.[29] This programme is administered by the Grampian Squirrel Society, with an aim of protecting the red squirrel; the programme centres on the Banchory and Cults areas. In 2008, the Scottish Wildlife Trust announced a four-year project which commenced in the spring of 2009 called "Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels".[30]

Other notable projects include red squirrel projects in the Greenfield Forest, including the buffer zones of Mallerstang, Garsdale and Widdale;[31] the Northumberland Kielder Forest Project; and within the National Trust reserve in Formby. These projects were originally part of the Save Our Squirrels campaign that aimed to protect red squirrels in the north of England, but now form part of a five-year Government-led partnership conservation project called "Red Squirrels Northern England"[32] to undertake grey squirrel control in areas important for red squirrels.

Wiewiorka pospolita
Red squirrel in Poland

Research undertaken in 2007 in the UK credits the pine marten with reducing the population of the invasive eastern grey squirrel. Where the range of the expanding pine marten population meets that of the eastern grey squirrel, the population of these squirrels retreats. It is theorised that, because the grey squirrel spends more time on the ground than the red, they are far more likely to come in contact with this predator.[33]

During October 2012, four male and one female red squirrel, on permanent loan from the British Wildlife Centre, were transported to Tresco in the Isles of Scilly by helicopter, and released into Abbey Wood, near the Abbey Gardens. Only two survived and a further 20 were transported and released in October 2013.[34] Although the red squirrel is not indigenous to the Isles of Scilly, those who supported this work intend to use Tresco as a ″safe haven″ for the endangered mammal, as the islands are free of predators such as foxes, and of the squirrel pox-carrying grey squirrel.[35][36]

Historical, cultural and financial significance

Squirrel Eating
"Squirrel" illustration from "British Mammals" by A. Thorburn, 1920

Squirrel Nutkin is a character, always illustrated as a red squirrel, in English author Beatrix Potter's books for children.

'Ekorren' (The Squirrel) is a well known and appreciated children's song in Sweden. Text and lyrics by Alice Tegnér in 1892.

In Norse mythology, Ratatoskr is a red squirrel who runs up and down with messages in the world tree, Yggdrasil, and spreads gossip. In particular, he carried messages between the unnamed eagle at the top of Yggdrasill and the wyrm Níðhöggr beneath its roots.

The red squirrel used to be widely hunted for its pelt. In Finland squirrel pelts were used as currency in ancient times, before the introduction of coinage.[37] The expression "squirrel pelt" is still widely understood there to be a reference to money. It has been suggested that the trade in red squirrel fur, highly prized in the medieval period and intensively traded, may have been responsible for the leprosy epidemic in medieval Europe. Within Great Britain, widespread leprosy is found early in East Anglia, to which many of the squirrel furs were traded, and the strain is the same as that found in modern red squirrels on Brownsea Island.[38][39] However, no squirrel cases have spread to a human for hundreds of years.[40]

The Rareware character Conker the Squirrel is a red squirrel.


Red squirrel subspecies
Various red squirrel subspecies; A) S. v. vulgaris from Sweden, B) S. v. fuscoater from Germany, C) S. v. infuscatus from central Spain
A squirrel in South Korea
S. v. mantchuricus from South Korea

There have been over 40 described subspecies of the red squirrel, but the taxonomic status of some of these is uncertain. A study published in 1971 recognises 16 subspecies and has served as a basis for subsequent taxonomic work.[41][42] Although the validity of some subspecies is labelled with uncertainty because of the large variation in red squirrels even within a single region,[42] others are relatively distinctive and one of these, S. v. meridionalis of South Italy, was elevated to species status as the Calabrian black squirrel in 2017.[43] At present, there are 23 recognized subspecies of the red squirrel.[2] Genetic studies indicate that another, S. v. hoffmanni of Sierra Espuña in southeast Spain (below included in S. v. alpinus), deserves recognition as distinct.[44]

  • S. v. alpinus. Desmarest, 1822. (synonyms: S. v. baeticus, hoffmanni, infuscatus, italicus, numantius and segurae)
  • S. v. altaicus. Serebrennikov, 1928.
  • S. v. anadyrensis. Ognev, 1929.
  • S. v. arcticus. Trouessart, 1906. (synonym: S. v. jacutensis)
  • S. v. balcanicus. Heinrich, 1936. (synonyms: S. v. istrandjae and rhodopensis)
  • S. v. chiliensis. Sowerby, 1921.
  • S. v. cinerea. Hermann, 1804.
  • S. v. dulkeiti. Ognev, 1929.
  • S. v. exalbidus. Pallas, 1778. (synonyms: S. v. argenteus and kalbinensis)
  • S. v. fedjushini. Ognev, 1935.
  • S. v. formosovi. Ognev, 1935.
  • S. v. fuscoater. Altum, 1876. (synonyms: S. v. brunnea, gotthardi, graeca, nigrescens, russus and rutilans)
  • S. v. fusconigricans. Dvigubsky, 1804
  • S. v. leucourus. Kerr, 1792.
  • S. v. lilaeus. Miller, 1907. (synonyms: S. v. ameliae and croaticus)
  • S. v. mantchuricus. Thomas, 1909. (synonyms: S. v. coreae and coreanus)
  • S. v. martensi. Matschie, 1901. (synonym: S. v. jenissejensis)
  • S. v. ognevi. Migulin, 1928. (synonyms: S. v. bashkiricus, golzmajeri and uralensis)
  • S. v. orientis. Thomas, 1906.
  • S. v. rupestris. Thomas, 1907
  • S. v. ukrainicus. Migulin, 1928. (synonym: S. v. kessleri)
  • S. v. varius. Gmelin, 1789.
  • S. v. vulgaris. Linnaeus, 1758.[45] (synonyms: S. v. albonotatus, albus, carpathicus, europaeus, niger, rufus and typicus)


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  27. ^ "Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 2003 – Schedule 2 Prohibited new organisms". New Zealand Government. Retrieved 26 January 2012.
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  31. ^ "Greenfield Forest declared England’s newest Red Squirrel Reserve" Retrieved 24 January 2011
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External links

Allen's squirrel

Allen's squirrel (Sciurus alleni) is a tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus endemic to northern Mexico. It has no subspecies.

American red squirrel

The American red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) is one of three species of tree squirrels currently classified in the genus Tamiasciurus, known as the pine squirrels (the others are the Douglas squirrel, T. douglasii, and Mearns's squirrel, T. mearnsi). The American red squirrel is variously known as the pine squirrel, North American red squirrel and chickaree. It is also referred to as Hudson's Bay Squirrel, as in John James Audubon's work The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (hence the species name). The squirrel is a small, 200–250 g (7.1–8.8 oz), diurnal mammal that defends a year-round exclusive territory. It feeds primarily on the seeds of conifer cones, and is widely distributed across North America wherever conifers are common, except on the Pacific coast, where its cousin, the Douglas squirrel, is found instead. The American red squirrel is not found on most of the Great Plains or in the southeastern United States, as conifer trees are not common in those areas.

The squirrel has been expanding its range into hardwood forests.

Calabrian black squirrel

The Calabrian black squirrel (Sciurus meridionalis) is a species of tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus, endemic to the forests of the regions of Calabria and Basilicata, in the south of the Italian Peninsula. It has long been considered a subspecies of the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), but studies published in 2009–2017 revealed that it is unique in both genetics and appearance, leading to its recognition as a distinct species.The Calabrian black squirrel is an arboreal animal that generally resembles the red squirrel in its behavior. Unlike the highly variable red squirrel, the Calabrian black squirrel is monomorphic (not variable in appearance), being very dark brown to blackish with contrasting white underparts. Compared to red squirrels of northern Italy, the Calabrian black squirrel is also significantly larger, weighing 280–530 g (10–18.5 oz) or on average about 35% more.The Calabrian black squirrel lives in mixed forests in highlands, and its nests are often placed in pine or oak trees. It mostly occurs near black pine, as the seeds are an important food source. The northern limit of its range has been northern Pollino, but it is slowly spreading north to the Lucan Apennines (Basilicata region). Its northernmost range limit and the southernmost Italian red squirrel are separated by a gap of more than 100 km (60 mi). The Calabrian black squirrel has a stable population, but its small range means that it likely qualifies for near threatened or perhaps vulnerable. The most serious threat is possibly the Finlayson's squirrel, which has been introduced near its range.

Collie's squirrel

Collie's squirrel (Sciurus colliaei) is a tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus endemic to Mexico.

Cranmore, Isle of Wight

Cranmore is a village on the Isle of Wight. It is located about three miles east of Yarmouth, in the northwest of the island. It is in the civil parish of shalfleet

Transport is provided by Southern Vectis bus route 7, serving Freshwater, Yarmouth and Newport including intermediate towns.Three areas of grassland, scrub and woodland situated around the village are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Together the three areas cover 12.4 hectares (30.7 acres) and were notified in 2002. The sites are home to the dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) and the nationally scarce small pearl-bordered fritillary (Boloria selene) and Kent black arches (Meganola albula). Other species include the adder (Vipera berus) and the common lizard (Lacerta vivipara), and nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos).

Douglas squirrel

The Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) is a pine squirrel found in the Pacific coastal states of the United States as well as the southwestern coast of British Columbia in Canada. It is sometimes known as the chickaree or pine squirrel, although these names are also used for the American red squirrel. Variant spellings of the common name are Douglas' squirrel and Douglas's squirrel. The Native Americans of Kings River called it the "Pillillooeet", in imitation of its characteristic alarm call.

Eastern gray squirrel

The eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), also known as the grey squirrel depending on region, is a tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus. It is native to eastern North America, where it is the most prodigious and ecologically essential natural forest regenerator. Widely introduced to certain places around the world, the eastern gray squirrel in Europe, in particular, is regarded as an invasive species.

Japanese squirrel

The Japanese squirrel (Sciurus lis) is a tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus endemic to Japan. The Japanese squirrel's range includes the islands of Honshū, Shikoku, and Kyūshū. Recently, populations on south-western Honshū and Shikoku decreased, and those on Kyūshū disappeared. One of the factors affecting the local extinction of this species seems to be forest fragmentation by humans.

Junín red squirrel

The Junín red squirrel (Sciurus pyrrhinus) is a species of squirrel from Peru and Ecuador.

Mount Graham red squirrel

The Mount Graham red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus grahamensis) is an endangered subspecies of the American red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) native to the Pinaleño Mountains of Arizona. It is smaller than most other subspecies of red squirrel, and also does not have the white-fringed tail that is common to the species. Its diet consists mainly of mixed seeds, conifer cones and air-dried fungi. It exhibits similar behavior to other squirrels in its species.

Northern Amazon red squirrel

The northern Amazon red squirrel, Sciurus igniventris, is a squirrel species from South America. It occurs in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

Peters's squirrel

Peters's squirrel (Sciurus oculatus) is a tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus endemic to Mexico. It was first described by the German naturalist and explorer Wilhelm Peters in 1863. Three subspecies are recognised. It is a common species, and the IUCN has rated its conservation status as being of "least concern".

Pine squirrel

Pine squirrels are squirrels of the genus Tamiasciurus, in the Sciurini tribe, of the large family Sciuridae.


Sciurinae is a subfamily of squirrels in the (family Sciuridae), uniting the flying squirrels with certain related tree squirrels. Older sources place the flying squirrels in a separate subfamily (Pteromyinae) and unite all remaining sciurids into the subfamily Sciurinae, but this has been strongly refuted by genetic studies.


The genus Sciurus contains most of the common, bushy-tailed squirrels in North America, Europe, temperate Asia, Central America and South America.

Southern Amazon red squirrel

The southern Amazon red squirrel (Sciurus spadiceus), is a squirrel species from South America where it inhabits forests in much of north-western South America east of the Andes. Three subspecies are currently recognised. It is a dark red colour, or a dark brown grizzled with ochre, has whitish underparts and grows to a total length of 48 to 63 cm (19 to 25 in), including a very long tail. It spends much of its time on the ground in the undergrowth and feeds largely on nuts. Little is known of its breeding habits, but it is a sociable species, several individuals often feeding together in one tree. This squirrel faces no particular threats, has a wide range and is relatively common, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists it as a "least-concern species".


Squirrels are members of the family Sciuridae, a family that includes small or medium-size rodents. The squirrel family includes tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, marmots (including woodchucks), flying squirrels, and prairie dogs amongst other rodents. Squirrels are indigenous to the Americas, Eurasia, and Africa, and were introduced by humans to Australia. The earliest known fossilized squirrels date from the Eocene period and are most closely related to the mountain beaver and to the dormouse among other living rodent families.

The Red Squirrel

The Red Squirrel (Spanish: La ardilla roja) is a 1993 drama film by the Spanish filmmaker Julio Médem, starring Emma Suárez and Nancho Novo.

Extant species of family Sciuridae (subfamily Sciurinae, Sciurini tribe)
(Dwarf squirrels)
(Pine squirrels)


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