This year I watched 8 young red squirrels grow up in one wood - 2 different mothers with 3 litters, 2 litters in the spring and one late summer, and all the kits have survived up to now. They visit the feeders every day and are now starting to take the hazelnuts and bury them in caches for the winter months. The urge to bury food is so strong that if the feeders get empty, they will often unearth nuts just to bury them again in a different location.

In an experiment to find the favoutire food, I put a selection out. Given a choice between hazelnuts, walnuts, blueberries, cherries, strawberries, apple, monkey nuts and peanuts, they will always take the hazelnuts. Even if the hazels are hidden under other food, they will find them and take them as their first choice. If there are no hazelnuts, they will reluctantly take small quantities of peanuts or monkey nuts, but with nothing like the enthusiasm shown to their favourite.

One remarkable habit that I've observed is the way they eat nuts. With hazels and monkey nuts, they bite the outer shell in half to reveal the kernel. They then use the bottom half of the shell as a bowl to hold the kernel, and never actually touch it with their paws. There is no record that I can find of this behaviour in any literature about red squirrels, so its fair to say that it was first observed in our Upper Coquetdale squirrels. It will be interesting to know if this is a local behaviour or widespread throughout the species.

Another habit that I often see is when they drop twigs or other debris on you, whilst chattering and scolding. I've seen them do this to jays when they come to feeders - the squirrel will find a spot in the tree overhead and drop things on them, all the while tut tutting and chattering away.

They can get very vocal at times and often the best way to find a red squirrel is to quietly walk through a wood and listen for them - if they see you, they will often give a distinctive call. They make different noises for different reasons - another squirrel encroaching will often be greeted by a very harsh squawking with some exaggerated tail wagging. The mating chases in December and January are often accompanied by a cacophony of this noise! Siblings, especially when very young, will communicate with muted squeaking noises and sometimes the kits will greet a parent with a plaintive low piping sound.

If you are interested in red squirrels and would like to get involved, please drop us a line and let us know!