The most commonly seen squirrel in the UK is the grey, Sciurus carolinensis. These are actually native to the Eastern part of North America and were introduced to the UK in the 1870s.
Grey squirrels are now a common sight in our parks and gardens. They will make good use of bird feeders. Some people will spend a fortune on fancy feeders to deter these intelligent, agile rodents, often to no avail. The money would be better spent on putting more food out so that there is plenty for the birds and squirrels to share.
Squirrels do not hibernate. They will gather food stuffs and bury them as winter stores. This December in the UK has been particularly mild, meaning that the squirrels have been foraging plenty of food. As they are wearing their thick winter coats they have been appearing to be somewhat chubby. Apparently there has been some “fat shaming” of squirrels on social media. I feel that this is a human hang up and rodents would only ever be proud of their successful conversion and storage of food as fat.
Greys are often blamed for the demise of the native European red squirrel, Sciurus vulgaris, which is now very rarely seen in the UK. However, I feel it is unfair to blame the misfortunes of the reds on the success of the greys. Grey squirrels are much more adaptable when it comes to food and habitat, this has proved useful in the face of the destruction of so much woodland, particularly coniferous woodland that the reds thrive in.
The greys have also developed better immunity to the pox virus that is decimating the red population. However, given time and better support for their habitat and food sources, the reds will also become a healthier and more immune population. Human activity has caused the red squirrels’ problems and human activity is what will save them. One interesting theory is that helping to increase and spread the population of another of our endangered native species, the pine marten could solve the problem. Pine martens love to eat squirrels. Red squirrels being smaller and lighter than greys can escape pine martens easily, whereas the greys will fall prey to them. Being intelligent animals, it has been shown that grey squirrels will avoid areas inhabited by pine martens, meaning there will be no competition for the beleagured red. Save our forests, save our pine martens, save our red squirrels. Meanwhile, enjoy the antics of the loveable grey squirrel in your garden. Even if the pigeons do object to having to wait their turn.