The Red squirrel, scientific name Tamiasciurus vulgaris. It is a member of the squirrel family with approximately forty sub species. They range from six to eight inches in length, and have a bushy tail of approximately the same length as their body. As their common name implies, their fur ranges from light red to a dark red which can appear almost black. Their diet consists of seeds and cones that are found in the coniferous forests of the World.
The Red squirrel will make its nest in the fork of a large tree. It is constructed of twigs and needles, with leaves and grass woven in between. The inter sleeping chamber is four to six inches across, and is lined with as much soft material as the squirrel can find. This would include bird feathers, animal fur, and dried grass or bark. The squirrel will continue to add layers of material to the outside of the nest, to insulate and waterproof it, as much as possible. Red squirrel have also been know to move into an abandon birds nest, or a den in a tree cavity.
The Red squirrel like all squirrels, store food for the coming year. The Red squirrel is a "wasteful" saver. It will collect more food than it could possibly eat. It will often pick off "green" from a tree. These cones that will never ripen, and therefor will not be used as food. The Red squirrel is also fond of mushrooms. It will tear them into stripes and let them dry. While the Red squirrel is herbivorous, it will eat bird eggs and insects when hungry.
Unlike its Gray cousin, the Red squirrel stores all of its food in one place. It is referred to as larderhoarding. The storage area is called a midden. This should not be confused with the other definition of midden, which is an area of animal droppings.
Red squirrels will mate in the late winter or early spring. This mating ritual willing began with a chase, where several males compete for one female. The males will chase each other through the trees jumping from branch to branch. The female will watch and then choose the male she believes is the strongest. That male will follow her until she is ready to mate. After the copulation, the male will return to its territory, leaving the female to raise the litter. The period of gestation is an average of 40 days for Red squirrels. There are normally four or five born in the litter. The female squirrel will nurse the babies for their first five or six weeks. During this time the babies will not leave the nest and are completely dependent on their mother for milk.
At six weeks, the baby squirrels will be removed from the nest, and the mother will teach them all the skills they will need to survive on their own. Once these babies leave the nest they are referred to as juveniles. The juvenile squirrels will play together, practice nest building, find and store food. The mother squirrel will not allow them back in her nest. They must find a home and store food before winter arrives, or they will perish.
The Red squirrel has few natural enemies. Hawks and Owls have been able to fly down and catch some squirrels as they travel across the ground. Mink's have been known to take one or more of the young squirrels from their nest, while the mother squirrel is gone. But, none of these predators can catch an adult squirrel when it is moving through a tree. The Bobcat and Fox will try to out run a squirrel on the ground, but again once the squirrel is up in a tree, it is relatively safe from its pursuer.