Wild Profile: Meet the red squirrel

Published: September 8, 2020

A red squirrel perched on a post against a green background By Mircea Costina/Shutterstock

Fall is just around the corner, which means the red squirrel now has the epic, once-per-year task of gathering masses of food and caching it all for winter. Red squirrels collect unopened spruce, fir, and pine cones; mushrooms; acorns; and nuts. They stash their winter foodstuffs underground, usually in multiple spots over their home territory. Burying the cones helps keep them moist, so they don’t lose their seeds. (Plus, who wants to eat a dry pine cone, right?) All total, one squirrel might gather and hide 57 lbs of pine cones alone; when the cold weather hits, a single rodent will eat 200 cones per day.

Red squirrels may be cute, but they’re also vicious cannibals

In the forest, it’s easy to spot evidence of red squirrels: just look for the “midden,” a great pile of cone scales and cores, usually under a tree. Squirrels prefer to eat their fill in sheltered dining spots, dropping the remnants to the ground. They’re fiercely protective of their food stashes, and will chase away other squirrels. That’s for good reason—the species is known for brazenly stealing food from one another.

Red squirrels are also highly territorial, and noisy during a turf war (one squirrel has a home range that covers between 40 and 100 metres). Every squirrel has a distinctive vocal rattle, and others can recognize it. They’re generally chatty, and produce several difference vocalizations: “chucking” sounds; moans; teeth chattering—probably the most recognizable to our ears; even piercing screams if a squirrel vs. squirrel smackdown gets especially rough. Yikes!

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