Grey Squirrel

Posh Name: Sciurus carolinensis.

Diet: Omnivore. Squirrels are mostly vegetarian, foraging for hazelnuts, acorns, tree bark, mushrooms, leaves and flowers, but they will sometimes raid birds nests for tasty eggs.

Habitat: Grey Squirrels originally come from America. They arrived in England on big ships in in the 19th century (200 years ago). Their American cousins live in deserts and rainforests as well as cities. Our grey squirrels live in forests and urbane parks; anywhere with lots of trees to climb!

Lifespan: Squirrels can live up to ten years old in the wild, but usually only live to three or four.

Size/Weight: Head and body length is from 23 to 30 cm, the tail from 19 to 25 cm. Weight varies between 350g and 600g.

Home: Grey squirrels live in dreys, high up in trees. A squirrel’s drey is about the same size as a football and very like a nest, made out of twigs, leaves, moss and feathers.

Mating and Courtship: Male squirrels court females by chasing them through the trees and chattering, begging them to mate with them! Female squirrels can only mate twice a year, but males ate always ready to mate. After mating, the females will raise her babies, or kits, on her own.

Babies: A mother squirrel will usually give birth to a litter of around three kits, but they can give birth to up to nine babies at once! Kits are born blind and hairless. The mother squirrel suckles her kits once every 3-4 hours for several weeks. Then their hair starts to grow and they begin to open their eyes. At 10 weeks old the kits teeth will be fully grown and they will give up suckling altogether. They start to leave the nest and play in the branches, and a month or so later they leave home to build their own drey.

Defining Features: Grey Squirrels are named for their grey fur, however their colour varies. In winter their fur is thick and silvery, with a brownish stripe down their backs. In summer they lose their winter coats and become more browny-yellow with white bellies. Of course the most noticeable feature of a squirrel is its big bushy tail! Squirrels tails are almost as long as their bodies. They use them to balance in trees and to give each other signals. Squirrels have stretchy, flappy skin under their arms so that they can glide a little when they jump!

Peculiar Behaviour: In cold countries like England, Grey Squirrels plan ahead for the winter. They bury stashes of nuts and seeds all over their territory so that they have plenty to eat when food is scarce in the coldest months. Grey squirrels talk to each other by making clicking and screeching noises, marking their scent (weeing!) and by twitching their tails to warn each other of danger. Even though they can be suspicious of thieves, squirrels are very trusting of humans. If you put some nuts and seeds in the palm of your hand, crouch down to a squirrels height and stay very still they might come and eat from your hand. But be careful, squirrels have very sharp teeth!

Weaponry: Grey squirrels are extremely fast and they have super-sharp teeth; if a squirrel catches you stealing his nuts he might bite, and when he bites he probably won’t let go! However the grey squirrel’s main weapon is its intelligence. Squirrels are so clever that they’ve learnt to trick other animals who might want to steal their stash, by digging elaborate fake stashes. They spend ages digging a fake stash, and then while any thieves are rummaging through the fake stash, our squirrel will go and bury his nuts in a secret stash somewhere else!

Vulnerability: As small rodents, squirrels are on the menus of larger predators such as cats, dogs, foxes and birds of prey, however their biggest predator is us, humans. Squirrels look very cute and cuddly, but they are actually pests. Gerdeners and gamekeepers don’t like grey squirrels because they killed off most of the native red squirrels that used to live all over England. They also eat bird eggs and steal bird food and nesting places, so lots of gardeners and gamekeepers hunt grey squirrels to protect our native wildlife. Squirrels are actually really tasty! In fancy restaurants squirrels are coming back on the menu!

Tail in a twirl,
See me unfurl!
I’m nip-nip-nibbling
at acorns that fell,
I’m chip-chip-chipping
Away at the shell!
My balance is brilliance,
My majesty great,
I’ve buried more nuts
Then I ever have ate!
But I’m big and I’m strong
And I prance to and fro,
I’ve travelled the world
I’m not native you know!