Red Squirrels

Red squirrels (Sciurus vulgare) are hard to find — they are almost extinct in England. They survive on Anglesey, North Wales and in parts of the Highlands and islands of Scotland, where isolation has saved them from the scourge of squirrel pox, carried by the successful grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) that raids our bird feeders but it’s not as simple as that.

Last week we visited some in Abergaty, Stirlingshire, Scotland. They are agile, lively creatures.

Happily their populations in Scotland are stabilising, despite one problem — poor memory — I sympathise.

When they have too many nuts, like this one, they hide or bury them and, more often than not, they can find them when times are hard. The grey squirrel has better spatial memory and finds far more of his hidden caches of nuts. The squirrels we saw were busy burying theirs.

Another problem for them is predators, we saw a goshawk over their wood and several buzzards. That is why these have developed to be so alert, they do no have eyes on the back of their heads but you can see from this one that the position of the eyes right at the side of the head (like a sheep) must give 300′ plus vision.

One great positive for the red squirrel is that in recent years, with increased protection and understanding, there has been a resurgence of the pine marten. These ferocious predators evidently have a taste for grey squirrels or perhaps they are just easier to catch than the red, being less nimble in the tree tops, and lighter.

Thanks to Dani Kropivnik, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons for his picture of a pine marten. We were not fortunate enough to see a pine marten — perhaps next time.

So these busy little creatures are doing alright!


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