Print Posted By Lost in France on 22 Nov 2005 in Wildlife - Wildlife and nature in France

Red Squirrels

Sciurus vulgaris

The Red SquirrelRed squirrels are slightly smaller than the Grey squirrel with adults weighing about 350g, their bodies measure between 18 - 24 cm and their bushy tails up to 18 cm long. The Red squirrel generally has a reddish brown fur and a cream to white belly although their fur colour can vary locally. In the winter it adults develop large blackish furry tufts on their ears and their fur colour can darken.

The Red squirrel is a protected animal throughout most of Europe and is far more common in France than the UK, this is mainly because of an abundance of suitable habitat - dense forest and fewer Grey squirrels.

The Red squirrel is most active early mornings and in the evening. It is a solitary creature except when mating or raising its young. It is quite a vocal creature often chattering and growling with occasional screeches, when it's annoyed it will also wave its tail back and forth. It has sharp curved claws to enable it to easily climb. Its large bushy tail helps it to balance and probably also helps to keep the squirrel warm in the winter.

Breeding starts to takes place in late winter with 2 litters born the first in February and the second in early summer. The female comes into season giving of an odour of oestrus and the males will chase her for up to an hour before the largest most dominant male wins. Females will not come into season until they have gained enough body weight and larger females tend to produce The Red Squirrelbigger litters.

The young or kittens are born in a nest or drey built from twigs high up in a tree, the drey is a hollow ball like structure and is lined with moss & hair.  It is not unusual for squirrels to have 2 or 3 dreys which it alternates to avoid the build up of fleas and other parasites. At birth they blind, deaf, without fur and are completely dependant on their mother, they weigh only 10 - 15g. The male squirrel does not participate in raising the young. The young are fully independent in about 8-9 weeks.

Red squirrels don't hibernate as such but instead stay in their nests or dreys during the worst of the cold weather. It is thought that as many as 75% of  juvenile squirrels do not survive the winter.

Diet consists mainly of acorns, seeds, nuts and berries. In the autumn they store food for the winter by burying it, without this vital food supply or if they have not managed to find and store enough food they may not survive the winter.

Lifespan is approximately 4-6 years. Apart from loss of habitat caused by man their main predators are pine martens, birds of prey and wild cats.

French for Red Squirrel = Ecureuil roux

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