We do too. But do you want to go out and see them?Show me Wild Experiences
Keep up to date with the hottest wildlife content on the web and save £10 on your first wildlife experience.Sign Me Up!
Red and grey squirrels are found across the UK. While their actual numbers are not known, the estimate is that there are millions of them living in the country. Of the four known varieties of squirrels in Britain – red, grey, black and brunette or ‘black-reds’, the red and grey squirrels are the most popular.
Currently, there are about 120,000 reds and 2.5 million greys in the UK. These two are well-known because they are the most common varieties.
How To Distinguish Red Squirrels from Grey Squirrels
One of the best ways to determine if it’s a red or grey squirrel is to check its size. Red squirrels are much smaller than the grey variety. In fact, they are often just half the weight of the greys. Red squirrels typically weigh between 250 to 350 grams with lengths between 18 to 24 centimetres. Meanwhile, the greys weigh between 400 to 720 grams with a body length of 25 to 30 centimetres.
Another good way of distinguishing these two squirrels is to look at their tails. The reds have tails ranging from white to dark colours. Meanwhile, the non-natives have tails composed of bands of colours. The tip of the greys’ tail is white which is referred to as the ‘halo’ effect. This tail feature is not present in the well-loved reds.
Red squirrels have tufted ears, a bunch of hair sticking out at the tip of the ear. These tufts become more visible in winter. Greys do not have this type of ears. However, this feature is not that reliable because the tufts shed off in summer. So, if you encounter a squirrel during this time, do not sole rely on the ears when identifying it.
Many commit the mistake of depending on the coat colour to determine the squirrel species. It is important to note that this is not a very reliable criterion. Fur colours for both species can widely vary, depending on the season and region. For example, red squirrels shed their coats twice a year. It can range from russet red to dark shades like black or grey. Similarly, some greys may also have, aside from grey, rusty red body fur.
Other Important Things About Red and Grey Squirrels
On the other hand, grey squirrels are native to North America. They were first brought to the UK, specifically at Chesire, in 1876. These served as additional ornaments on estates. In the following years, more greys were released until 1915. Their population eventually flourished and their range expanded. Nowadays, they are common all over Wales, central Scotland and central and southern England.
Furthermore, according to research, the greys are better able to digest and extract essential nutrients like proteins contained in oak acorns. Red squirrels cannot do the same. This is why, grey squirrels thrive in areas where oaks are present.
Meanwhile, in coniferous forests dominated by trees with small seeds, the non-natives struggle because they are unable to consume enough to meet their body’s energy requirement. Given these facts, conservationists and scientists say that minimising oaks in coniferous forest can deter grey squirrels from inhabiting the area. This is a good way of boosting the population of red squirrels.
When fewer females breed and youngsters die early, the population can significantly decline if the problem persists for quite some time. When left unaddressed, it can lead to the extinction of the red squirrels.
Yet, despite efforts to keep the reds away from greys, indirect interactions still put the natives at risk of contracting diseases like adenovirus. For example, a red and a grey squirrel may end up using the same drey, squirrel nest made up twigs, but at different times. Both squirrels may also feed on the same site like bird tables.
Red squirrel photo by Flickpicpete (Thanks for 2.5 million+ views)
Grey squirrel photo by chapmankj75
Red squirrel eating photo by -OliverMacaulay-
Grey squirrel eating from a bird table photo by Airwolfhound