Red squirrel Sciurus vulgaris Ecureuil roux in France
Red squirrel Sciurus vulgaris Ecureuil roux
Although they are named Red squirrels that can be a bit misleading as their colour can vary from virtually black, though all shades of brown, red, and grey. In some cases this will depend on the time of year, in other instances they can maintain a dark coat all the time. In most cases their summer coat is red and their winter coat is predominantly grey. In all cases the colour of the underside is a creamy white. They moult or shed their coat twice a year in the transition from winter to spring and in the transition from autumn to winter, when in addition to putting on a thicker coat their ear tufts become much longer and clearly pronounced. Their eyes are large, dark and protuberant, giving them an excellent sense of vision, although they do not see in colour. Hind legs are longer than their forelegs and they have long claws with double-jointed ankles, making them very agile and well-adapted to their arboreal lifestyle. They are also able to squat on their haunches, freeing up their well-articulated front paws to hold and manoeuvre nuts and seeds. Adults weigh between 200 and 400grms, total length is from 36 to 45cms including their tail of 16 to 20cms which is as long as their body.
Habitat and diet.
They are found throughout France where there are woodlands or scattered copses, in parks and gardens, even in town centres and although they may have some preference for coniferous trees in some regions they are just as likely to be found where coniferous trees are totally absent.
Their nest or drey which is constructed using leaves and moss can be made in the branches of a tree, a hollow tree, an old woodpecker nest and occasionally in roof spaces. One drey that I observed, (see photo), was made between a 2nd floor window and the closed shutters of a holiday home where there was a gap just large enough to allow access, the squirrel climbed with ease the vertical rendered surface of the exterior wall using its very sharp curved claws! A squirrel will frequently use more than one drey and it’s not uncommon in winter to find several sharing the same drey or dreys. As is the case with most French mammals they do not hibernate.
Red Squirrels will eat most fruits, berries, nuts and tree seeds except acorns. Nuts and seeds which are not eaten straight away are cached under the soil surface for later retrieval, particularly during winter and while these are being carried in the squirrel's mouth, chemicals from scent glands in its cheeks are transferred to the food, and these act as markers which help the squirrel relocate its hoarded supplies. They will also eat snails and insects. The red squirrel's senses of smell, hearing and touch are also well-developed. They have long, sensitive whiskers on their muzzles which they use together with special hairs on their feet and at the base of their tails to aid their movement through the trees. They can be easily encouraged to take from a feeding station and will often frequent bird tables.
Photo. Red squirrel drey on window ledge in France.
Breeding and reproduction
Photo. French Red Squirrel eating nuts from a feeder.
Natural predators include pine martens (Martes martes), which is the only mammal able to chase and catch it in the trees and goshawks (Accipiter gentilis) will take them on the ground.
They are a fully protected species in France.
Au niveau français, cet écureuil est protégé depuis 1976*; il est à présent visé par l’arrêté du 17 avril 1981 relatif aux mammifères protégés sur l’ensemble du territoire national dont la destruction, la mutilation, la capture, le transport sont interdits. Plus récemment, il est visé par l’arrêté du 23 avril 2007 fixant la liste des mammifères terrestres protégés sur l’ensemble du territoire et les modalités de leur protection.
Important Note. There are no North American Grey Squirrels, (Sciurus Carolinensis), in France. Currently the only place in Continental Europe where they exist is in Italy where they were introduced, Bertolino and Genovesi (2003) provided the following information on the introduction and spread:
“In Italy, the American grey squirrel was first introduced into Piedmont (north-western Italy) in 1948, when two pairs were imported from Washington, DC (USA) and released at Stupinigi (province of Turin; Bertolino et al., 2000). In 1966, five animals imported from Norfolk (Virginia, USA) were released into the park of Villa Groppallo at Genoa Nervi. A third introduction occurred in 1994 at Trecate (province of Novara), when the municipality funded the release of three pairs of grey squirrels in an urban park; however, in response to pressure to eradicate this nucleus, the animals were recaptured two years later (Bertolino et al., 2000).
Otherwise they were introduced to the UK and Ireland with disastrous results for the Native Reds.
In all cases the Grey squirrel S. Carolinensis is to be considered an Invasive Alien Species (IAS) in Europe, (Species or lower taxa whose introduction or spread outside their natural range threatens biological diversity). More information can be found. HERE