Report Greys

Red Squirrels

Red Squirrels (Sciurus Vulgaris)



Should I Feed Red Squirrels?

Urban areas have less natural habitat and natural food available for red squirrels. Therefore, supplementary feeding is essential; as well as providing valuable nutrients, it will prevent starvation and encourage more regular breeding – red squirrels will mate more than once a year if food is plentiful, however, they may not breed at all if food is scarce. Feeding red squirrels can also provide hours of wonderful entertainment as you watch their amusing antics!

IMPORTANT: Please read our ‘precautions’ below regarding cleaning and hygiene


What Food Should I Provide?

It is best to feed a variety of different foods, similar to those that the squirrel might forage for in the wild. In fact, the red squirrel will pillage the nuts and seeds found naturally in your garden.

The most suitable foods for red squirrels are hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, beech (cob) nuts and pine nuts. Sweet chestnuts and walnuts are also suitable. Unsalted peanuts are another favourite, but should be not be given in isolation. Some squirrels also like oats. Please note that red squirrels don’t usually like maize (sweet corn).

Young red squirrels can suffer from calcium deficiency if they feed too often on the wrong sort of food. Therefore, peanuts should not be given exclusively, but as part of a varied diet.

If available, an additional calcium source could be provided with your squirrel food. This is particularly valuable during the summer for juvenile and female squirrels. To reduce calcium deficiency provide: pieces of apple or carrot; a supplement added to the feed or a dish of drinking water; bone meal added to the dry feed mix; a cuttlefish bone or antler placed near the feeder.

Also provide a source of water if it is not naturally available.

Please note that grey squirrels love maize and mixed squirrel food, therefore, to discourage them, don’t provide these foods.


Where Can I Obtain Food and a Squirrel Feeder?

The most common places are garden centres. Oakhurst garden centre in Cockermouth is a big supporter of the Allerdale Red Squirrel Group and has various foods and feeders, even red squirrel dreys!


How Often Should I Feed?

Regular feeding every few days is best rather than having food permanently available, as this will encourage the squirrels to forage for natural food too. This way, you are providing a supplementary food source rather than the only source of food and you will not encourage them into bad habits. However, please top up your feeders more regularly during the summer months when natural food is scarce.

Feed throughout the year. In the wild, red squirrels feed on shoots and flowers in spring, and nuts and fruits in autumn and winter. The critical period to feed reds is during the summer months before the fruits and nuts are ripe, when their natural food is in short supply. Continued feeding throughout the winter will also provide an additional boost to the squirrels in your area.


What Precautions Should I Take When Feeding?

The following precautions are essential:

The feeder and the food must be kept as clean as possible to prevent the spread of disease, PARTICULARLY THE SQUIRREL POX VIRUS. Feeders should be regularly cleaned (preferably every week) with a disinfectant/water (1:10) solution or a detergent such as Citrox, Virkon or Ark-klens – these are safe for animals and they destroy bacteria and prevent cross-contamination. They are available from most animal feed stores and some garden centres such as Cowells.

Sweet, dried foods such as raisins and sultanas must be avoided, as these are hard to digest and can cause calcium deficiency.

The food should be placed as high as possible – a good feeder location is against a tree or wall so that the squirrel doesn’t have to cross open ground. It must not be scattered on the ground as cats account for a high number of fatalities in gardens visited by squirrels.


If I feed, will squirrels visit every day?

Not necessarily; squirrels may visit a number of locations for food and may not visit your garden every day.


Why do squirrels bury food/how do they subsequently locate it?

Squirrels bury food so that they have a stock when it is hard to find. Squirrels locate the food through smell.



Squirrels usually live in woodlands and wooded areas. Occasionally, they are found in the middle of fields, or on open moorland – but this unusual behaviour is usually because the squirrel has gone looking for a new woodland home and has got lost.

Woods are a good place to live, because they are full of undisturbed nooks and crannies in which to hide. A wood lasts a long time – so any good places to shelter are likely to be there for a long time. Squirrels live in all types of woodland. They have a home area of up to 7 hectares (roughly 65 football pitches!), which they explore when looking for food and shelter. However, we believe our urban red squirrels have a much smaller home area.


Where Do Squirrels Sleep and Breed?

Having a warm and safe place to sleep, shelter and raise a family is a top priority for any animal. In the squirrels’ case, the home can be either a natural tree hollow or a nest it makes itself. These two types of home are known as Dens and Dreys.


What is a Den?

A den is a hollow space in a tree (this may have previously been made by a woodpecker), which the squirrel lines with soft and warm leaves, grasses and mosses. This provides an excellent safe and warm place for the squirrel to sleep and shelter from the elements. Dens are always hard to find because they are hidden away; they are generally built up in a tree and are often only spotted when you actually see the squirrel disappear inside.


What is a Drey?

A drey is a ball shaped nest about 50 centimeters across, made by the squirrel in the cleft of a tree. The nest is constructed of twigs and sticks that the squirrel carefully makes into a shelter. The twigs are built so that the centre is hollow; this hollow is then filled with soft material, just as with the den . The squirrel makes the nest by carefully selecting twigs, nibbling them off and then putting them into place using its teeth and front paws. A squirrel may make many trips back and forth to make its drey. A well made one may last for two or three years, through wind, rain and storms.

Making a nest on the outside of the tree means that it might be exposed to the wind and rain more easily. To try and solve this problem the squirrel is careful about where it makes its drey. Right in the middle of the tree, near the trunk is a much better place than out on the end of the branches. Near the trunk, there will be more leaf cover to protect from the rain, and the branch will move less, making it less likely that the drey will be blown or shaken apart. The squirrel also makes its drey quite high up in the tree (over 5 meters). The higher up the squirrel, the less likely it is to be found by ground predators like foxes or cats.

Just as squirrel will happily find enough to eat in both conifer and deciduous woods, they are also equally happy to make their nest in either coniferous or deciduous woods. Red squirrels seem to be more successful in coniferous forests, while grey squirrels prefer broad-leaved forests. Squirrels normally use more than one drey or den at a time, swapping every few days. This provides them with an alternative home if their nest becomes wet or is destroyed in bad weather. It also allows the squirrel to reduce the level of parasite infestation they suffer by leaving parasites behind in the nest.


How Often do Red Squirrels Breed/Reproduce?

Red squirrels can reproduce more than twice a year. However, this is dependent on there being an adequate food supply. If there is not, they may not even reproduce at all.


Why Do Squirrels Visit Your Garden?

Although squirrels come to your garden to look for materials such as moss for nest lining, or to drink from you garden pond, the biggest attraction is food.


Do Squirrels Hibernate?

No! Squirrels are active virtually every day – yes that’s right – every day. This includes the winter too. So, we can rule out the misconception that squirrels hibernate. Unlike dormice and bats, which put on lots of body fat and then hibernate, the squirrel keeps on going right through the winter. During the autumn the squirrels do put on body weight – but nowhere near enough to make hibernation possible. Only really windy, cold or wet weather keeps the squirrels tucked away in their nests. But if the weather stays bad for a few days they will have to come out and search for food anyway.

Squirrels are most active first thing in the morning, Unfortunately for us, one or two hours after dawn is the best time to see them! Once they’ve digested their mornings’ food they will also be active at other times throughout the day, but this varies. The search for food is never ending, and this is nearly always the reason why squirrels are out and about. Squirrel Food Shelter isn’t the only reason that squirrels live in woods. The other reason is equally important – woods are good for squirrels because they offer an abundance of food.

Squirrels will eat a very wide range of foods. What they eat at a particular time depends very much on its availability. This is called non-selective feeding. Of all the foods eaten by squirrels, tree seed is the most important. This includes such things as pine seeds, beech nuts, acorns and hazel nuts. These are all large seeds and they provide a lot of food for the squirrel. Some of the other things that the squirrels eat include fungi, flowers, berries and shoots. These are all available at different times of the year and eating them when they become available helps the squirrel through the year.


What Legislation Protects Red Squirrels?

The Wildlife and Country Act 1981 covers the protection of red squirrels and other wild animals.