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What About Those Red Squirrels?

By Chris Williams on February 19, 2016.

What can you tell me about red squirrels? I think that’s what I’m seeing. We’ve always had the normal gray squirrels in our yard but yesterday I saw one that clearly appeared reddish, and smaller than the others.

W. T., Plaistow, NH

Yes, you probably did see a red squirrel. Here in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, some of our areas have both gray squirrels and red squirrels. These squirrels are not always found together though since gray squirrels feed on acorns and other nuts and are found where there are hardwood trees such as oak or hickory. Red squirrels, on the other hand, are associated with conifers such as pine, spruce, hemlock, or fir since they feed on cones and seeds from these trees. They’re sometimes called “pine squirrels.” If your property has only hardwoods, you probably won’t have red squirrels as permanent residents.

Red Squirrels Are Smaller, But More Aggressive

Red squirrels are smaller than gray squirrels, both in length and weight (see Comparing Gray Squirrels and Red Squirrels). They have a rusty-brown back with a whitish belly, and sometimes tufts of hair on the tips of their ears. Like gray squirrels, red squirrels live mainly in leaf or grass nests or in tree hollows. They sometimes nest in ground burrows or rock dens. They don’t nest in attics in homes as often as the gray squirrel, but will frequently move into unoccupied cabins, sheds and outbuildings.

Red squirrels are solitary nesters and are very territorial, aggressively defending their space to keep other squirrels (even other red squirrels) out. These squirrels are more vocal than gray squirrels, they bark, chatter, and buzz and are sometimes called “chatter boxes.”

Red Squirrels Build Large Food Hoards

One noticeable characteristic of red squirrels is that they are great food hoarders, often amassing large piles of pine cones and pine seeds stored under logs or in brush piles, old burrows, in sheds, or often directly under their feeding perches. These food caches, called “middens,” allow the squirrel to survive the winter (see Red Squirrel Middens) and are vigorously protected.

Like the gray squirrels, red squirrels are most active in early morning or late afternoon and remain fairly active even in winter. Your red squirrel may have just been passing through though. Red squirrels will often migrate short distances if food supplies are low.

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