Red Squirrels

While Red Squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) can be found in purely deciduous woods, they prefer coniferous forests – or at least a hardwood forest with some conifers because their favorite food is seeds extracted from pine cones.  In fact, they have a curious habit of going to the same eating perch repeatedly to rip scale after scale from cones to get at the seeds.  If you ever see a pile of pinecone scales in the woods, you can bet Red Squirrels have been eating there.  Poke around in the pile and you will also find the “cores” of pinecones – stripped bare of all scales.  It reminds me of corn cobs after a summer picnic!

Red Squirrel by Tom LeBlanc
Total Length: 11-14  inches
Tail Length: 4-6 inches
Weight: 5-9 ounces
Average Lifespan:  2-3 years

Red Squirrel by ERuthK at bodysoulspirit on FlickrRed Squirrels also eats buds, seeds, fruits, and mushrooms.  They seem to have a sweet tooth, as they will bite through the bark of a maple tree in spring allowing the sap to run.  As it trickles down the tree, water evaporates from the sap leaving a sticky, sweet treat, which Red comes back for in a few days.  In addition to these plant sources, Red Squirrels also eat insects, birds, mice, voles, and young rabbits.

If you enter Red Squirrel territory, you are apt to be scolded with a loud continuous chick-chick-chick.  (I remember getting a serious scolding once while setting up my tent near an Eastern Hemlock tree…  Eventually he decided to allow my presence, but it was clear he didn’t like it!)

Red Squirrels prefer to nest in a tree cavity, but if none can be found, they will weave a basketball-sized nest in the branches of trees from leaves and twigs.  Occasionally, they will nest on or underground, especially in winter.

Two cool vocabulary words related to Red Squirrels:

  • Midden – the pile of “trash” (pinecone scales and cores) left behind from eating pinecone seeds.
  • Cache – the pile of stored food Red Squirrels stash just before winter – sometimes at the base of a tree, sometimes underground.

8 thoughts on “Red Squirrels

  1. They also eat Begonias. I caught one on video eating and enjoying my flower petals. They are the cutest of all squirrels, in my opinion. You have to love their cartoon-like head. Little ears, little round eyes, rufus-red color. They are the chihuahua of the squirrel world (I just finished watching the Westminster Dog Show.)

  2. We don’t have any of the creatures you have mentioned lately here in Australia Jennifer, so it is an absolute delight to see them. I remember seeing my first squirrel when I was in The Berkshires. So excited! After that, or course, I saw many. Wish I’d seen a ground hog. We are in trauma mode here. Amongst the logistics of dealing with disaster , there are many bandaging and rescuing our native wildllife burnt badly in the worst bushfires our nation has seen.Many nest and tree-dwellers would not have stood a chance.

  3. @Linda – it’s funny when you do an Internet search for “Red Squirrel” – Many of the sites are about how to eliminate them as a pest… But I agree… they are fun to watch.

    @Pam – Oh dear! I’ll keep you in my thoughts… and your critters, too.

  4. Hi Jenn,
    I loved this post–Red Squirrels are one of my favorite little woodland creatures. I know many people find them seriously annoying, but I can tell you that they’ve entertained me for many hours in the deerstand and also my backyard. And I love to watch them scratch themselves–how can they move their leg so fast???

  5. Oh, the pictures are precious! I was very surprised to read that in addition to a diet of seeds, fruit and mushrooms they will also eat birds, mice, voles and young rabbits. Are they predatory, then, or are those only food items of last resort when the other food sources become scarce?

  6. Loved these squirrels – I had never seen one until I went to Valley Forge National Park and discovered one that was less than happy with my presence. I hadn’t realized that they were even around our area.

    Nice picture of this cute squirrel (much better than the common gray squirrels, in my opinion).

  7. Oh, I now realize why these red squirrels look so much cuter than the gray squirrels! They have a more rounded head than the grays — the grays have that elongated face that makes them look more like a rodent. That’s cute how Linda in Erie described them — cartoon-like heads. 🙂

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