American Red Squirrel
When this little squirt popped into view, I couldn't believe it. Had to go get the binoculars, and then I still wasn't sure I believed it. The last time I saw one of these guys was more than a decade ago, at my dentist's office. Her office was/is located on an older lot in town, with large, older growth pine trees--which makes good sense, since these fellows historically have diets composed of primarily conifer seeds.
The American Red Squirrel
is roughly a third the size of the gray brutes that normally hang around the bird feeders here. Normal-sized grey squirrels would be about double the size of a red squirrel--mine are just exceptionally well-fed. He is a smidge larger than a chipmunk--ok, maybe a couple smidges--a third to double the size of a chipmunk. But if you enjoy the tail-lashing antics of "tree rats" as much as I do, you will find this fellow rather fetching, with his dashing red tail, white eye ring and black stripe above his white or cream belly.
This particular visitor only stayed around for a brief time--once the locals found out he was here, they made certain he knew he wasn't welcome to their peanuts and he left. He did get a pretty good snack before he left, though!
Alternative names for the American red squirrel are "pine squirrel" or, my favorite, "chickaree," which comes from the sounds they make. Just like gray squirrels, they are diurnal, active during the day and snoozing like sensible mammals at night. He is a bundle of attitude--very territorial and descriptors like "hyperactive" can be found in the sources.
Only 22-25 percent of red squirrels survive their first year. Despite this, the species is flourishing, probably in part due to its dietary flexibility. While the species has a preference for the energy-loaded seeds of conifers, these squirrels will eat mushrooms, other fruits and nuts, birds' eggs, insects, the sap of maples, and even bark when the larder is a bit bare. They are the ultimate opportunists.
In this photo (left), you can see one of my mega grey squirrels arriving to discipline the newcomer who dared to swipe a few peanuts from the squirrel feeder. The little guy makes the grey guy look huge, doesn't he? What the reds lack in size, however, they make up in speed, frequently besting gray squirrels in resource acquisition.
This red squirrel may have been looking for a territory to call its own so it could create a food stash (called a midden) for the winter. This would not be the place--too close to a fairly major road and not enough cover/food sources. I should also mention that these images were shot in early November, so he had not put it off as late as you might think.
Red squirrels do prefer cavity nesting, but will also build nests of grasses and leaves, much like grey squirrels. The female of the species will build several nests within her territory and move the young among them. She comes into estrus typically once a year for one day only, and will mate with multiple males. In this neighborhood, their predators would mostly be hawks and house cats. In the more rural locations of this part of North Carolina, red squirrels would be preyed upon by wolves, coyotes, owls, bobcats and foxes, as well.
There are no surprises in what these little guys need to survive. The largest of their needs would be trees--large ones, and lots of them. Not just for the food sources, but for the multiple nest sites which the female requires. Which is why seeing one in an urban setting can be unusual, even though the species as a whole is in good shape.
So all you good native gardeners out there, remember: in addition to the plants for pollinators, be sure to plant a shade tree or two. This guy needs a place to call home!
And now, for your viewing pleasure, a little video nicely compiled from
with plenty of squirrel vocabulary! Or if you just want to see cute teenagers, click
(PILES of cute photos!),