Red Squirrel


Geographic Range

Alaska continuously across Canada to the northeast U.S. South to the Appalachian states and northern Rocky Mountains.

Habitat

Coniferous, deciduous, and mixed forests.

Physical Description

Mass: 140 to 250 g; avg. 194.50 g  (4.93 to 8.8 oz; avg. 6.85 oz)

Head and Body length= 165-230mm Tail length=90-160. Fur color is quite variable and even varies between winter and summer. The dorsal coat is usually brownish or olive-red in color. During the summer, a black stripe can be seen on the side. The belly is white or cream color. The tail is often edged with white. There is a white band encircling the large, black eye. The tail is not as thick or bushy as other North American squirrel species.

Reproduction

In warmer climates there are two breeding seasons, in the late winter and mid-summer. In colder climates, there is only one, taking place in late winter. Females are receptive to males for one day. Many males chase the female, attempting to mate with her. After mating, the male and female seperate, leaving the female to care for the young alone. She gives birth, after a 38 day gestation period, in a lined den or tree hollow, to 1-8 young. The young develop very quickly and are weaned 7-8 weeks after birth. At 18 weeks they leave the nest. Juvenile mortality is high, with owls, hawks, and pine martens taking many individuals. About 25% survive to sexual maturity, which is achieved around one year after young are born. Red squirrels can live up to 7 years in the wild.

Behavior

Red squirrels are solitary, diurnal animals that are active throughout the year. Their peak activity times are at dawn and the late afternoon. They den in old woodpecker holes, tree hollows, or any other small crevice near their home range (usually 1-2.4 hectares). In the northern part of their range, red squirrels often spend the winter in a system of underground tunnels. They are very vocal and loudly scold intruders in their home range. Vocalizations consist of rattles, screeches, growls, buzzes, and chirps. Red squirrels often migrate if their local food supply runs low. During these migrations they will often cross water and are good swimmers.

Food Habits

Red squirrels are not picky eaters. They consume seeds, fruit, nuts, bark, buds, shed antlers, reptiles, insects, tree sap, pine cones, fungi (including mushrooms that are poisonous to humans), eggs, young birds, mice, and young rabbits. Red squirrels store many seeds and nuts underground, in piles, or under rocks for the winter. They are able to relocate seed caches buried 30cm underground and 4 meters below snow with their tremendous sense of smell. Many seed stockpiles are not recovered, however, and red squirrels are a key tree planter and seed disperser.