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Last page update: 26.04.2014

Recognition of Red and Grey Squirrels, their tracks, nests (drey) and feeding signs.

Red Squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) have been present on the British Isles mainland and some of the offshore islands since the last ice age.

Grey Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) have been present since the mid 1800s when they were misguidedly introduced from North America by the Victorians.

Grey squirrels have been identified as largely responsible for a serious decline in red squirrel populations over the last century because of habitat competition and because they are a vector for the squirrel pox virus which is fatal to red squirrels.

Grey squirrels are present throughout the country, northwards to roughly a line between Peterhead and Fort William, and in recent times serious efforts have and are being made to reduce their numbers, and slow their advance into the Scottish Highlands.

The Scottish Highlands are considered to be a last refuge for the Red Squirrel and to help facilitate this the SNH, the Forestry Commission and the SWT have a current joint project to identify suitable forests as strongholds, consisting mainly of small seeded conifers which are less attractive to greys; but where reds can continue to flourish, despite the grey advance.

The Highland Squirrel Survey continues to map the extent of the still under-recorded Red squirrel population and to monitor for the appearance of Grey Squirrels beyond the front line.

Where both species are present it is important to accurately distinguish between them and looking at the images below, you might think this is easy; but because of colour variations and observational factors mistakes can be made.

Things to look out for:
Greys are larger, heavier and more robust than reds.
Greys spend more time on the ground, are less nervous and more likely to show themselves in human presence.
Greys have a white halo around their tail which is especially obvious in good light.
Red squirrels have long ear tufts in winter.
Greys have no hair on their ears.
Red squirrel below was photographed in late winter and is what you would expect but colour can vary from buff through red and brown to black. Many are patchy with greyish flanks especially in winter and can be very dark to appear almost black in bad light.
Greys can be black and often display reddish flanks.

Red Squirrel Tracks.
Examples of tracks left by Red Squirrels in snow.

Tracks left by Red Squirrels matingRed Squirrel print set

Red Squirrel Tracks in snow Red Squirrel Tracks between Birch Trees
in deep snow.

Red Squirrel Drey (Nest)
Red squirrel Drey in Norway Spruce.
Red Squirrel Drey in young Scots Pine

 Red Squirrel feeding signs.

Scots Pine

Scots Pine cone remains left by Red squirrel feeding on
the ground.
Scots Pine cone remains scattered under a Grannie Pine
by Red Squirrels feeding in the canopy.
Scots Pine cone remains. Some are torn apart while
with the riper cones the scales are gnawed off.
Scots Pine cone scales scattered on ground by
Red Squirrels feeding in plantation trees.

Watch out for Red Squirrels when you're driving.

This is the result when you hit a Red Squirrel with your car.

Report Red and Grey Squirrel sightings in the Highlands at Scottish Squirrel Survey

You can find out more about the Scottish Squirrel Survey from the Saving the Red Squirrel web site.


Recommended reading

The Eurasian Red Squirrel
Stefan Bosch and Peter Lurz.
The Eurasian Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)
Authors:   Stefan Bosch and Peter W. W. Lurz

This is a comprehensive and well illustrated book which I feel has been long overdue. It is clearly written and is an excellent form of reference and general interest which will appeal to all readers, from professional ecologists to those who are just interested in understanding more about this popular and endangered mammal.

Chapters cover Taxonomy, Distribution, Body form and function, Reproduction and development, Behaviour, Ecology, Threats and conservation, Methods and research, Squirrels and people, plus an extensive Bibliography.

Eurasian red squirrels have an innate appeal and are one of
our most popular mammal species. They live in forests, share
our parks and gardens and mesmerise us with their cute, captivating and endearing behaviour.

Inside chapter 3 - Body form and function

The current volume offers an up-to-date overview of all aspects of red squirrel biology together with an extensive bibliography of published books, articles and research papers.

The detailed and illustrated chapters provide a window into the hidden life of red squirrels and their fascinating ecology, population dynamics and behaviour.

Inside chapter 7 - Threats and conservation
The book integrates material, research findings and images from across the red squirrel‘s Eurasian range, with particular attention being given to conservation efforts, favourable forest management options and the threat posed by the Eastern gray squirrel (also referred to as ‚grey squirrel‘ in Europe).

The latter has been responsible for devastating population declines of native red squirrels in the UK, Ireland and Italy and is likely to invade Switzerland and France in the near future.

Download the publishers web flier pdf for more information.

Buy now from NHBS or  Amazon
Find more titles like this at Ron Burys Wildlife Book Store


More reading:


Easy Places to See Red Squirrels in the Highlands

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This web site is about the wildlife, particularly the mammals, of the Glen Affric National Nature Reserve area in the north west Highlands of Scotland, UK; and the equipment I use to search for them, which is chiefly trail cameras.

I provide a technical support and parts service for the Ltl Acorn range of cameras and the income from this provides for the upkeep of this site and the purchase of cameras for my own surveying.

I hope you find the site useful and informative; and please contact me if you have any questions that I haven't already covered.