Feisty

It’s rare to see the red squirrels in my backyard sitting still.  They chase each other and the gray squirrels around the yard, up and down trees, and around the bird feeders.  But every now and then, one will sit still on a branch and contemplate what to do next.  This one had just finished terrorizing its “cousin”, chasing another slightly less feisty individual off the tree.

red squirrel, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus

red squirrel, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus

When there is so much spilled seed on the ground, even red squirrels can be somewhat tolerant of their neighbors.

red squirrels feeding on sunflower seed

UPDATED NOTE added in response to a good question from afrenchgarden:  

American red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) are in a different genus than gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), are about half their size, and are really specialists on the seeds of conifer cones (they are also called pine squirrels for this reason).  Although they do like the occasional acorn, walnut, and sunflower seed, their diet doesn’t overlap that much with gray squirrels, so the two species happily coexist.

It’s a different story in Europe.  A British gent (so the story goes) introduced gray squirrels to Britain, where they came into direct competition for food with the European Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), because they both like acorns, and other big nut seeds.  Gray Squirrels being a bit bigger and bolder drive the European Red Squirrels away from their favorite food.  In addition, the European Red Sciurus is vulnerable to a pox that the American Gray Sciurus carries but is immune to.  So–a double whammy of competition plus disease has severely reduced the numbers of native British squirrels.

A BBC video explains all this and more.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Eastern_gray_squirrel#p007vd86

5 thoughts on “Feisty

  1. I’m intrigued by your red squirrels co-habitating with the grey. The American grey squirrel which was introduced into England has been blamed for the almost complete disappearance of the native red squirrel. Do the two squirrels not compete for living space near you?

  2. Thanks for asking such a good question. I think I’ll add a little to the post above to explain this. Refresh your screen to get the latest version.

    • Thanks Jo Ann. They are very cute, although difficult to handle. I once made the mistake of trying to liberate a red squirrel from a trap I had set for chipmunks. The frantic squirrel exited the trap, ran up my arm, and launched himself upward off my nose, raking my forehead with his hind claws in the process. I got a lot of questions about that injury!

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