These squirrels have grey fur and often sit upright with their large bushy tails arched over their backs.
Grey squirrels, originally from North America, were released in the UK by 19th century landowners. They are now very common and widespread.
Grey squirrels are active during the day, foraging for food in trees and on the ground – they often visit peanut feeders in gardens. In the autumn they spend time storing nuts to eat during the winter.
Their nest, called a drey, is a compact, spherical structure. It is slightly larger than a football and constructed of twigs, leaves, bark and grass.
Grey squirrels tend to breed in between January and April and, if food is plentiful, they may have a second litter in the summer.
They are extremely successful and have replaced our native red squirrels over most of the UK.
What they eat:
Acorns, bulbs, tree shoots, buds, fungi, nuts and roots. Occasionally takes birds’ eggs and chicks.
About 30 cm, tail about 25 cm
Up to 600g
Shrub & Woodland area
Although both red and grey squirrels will damage plants, the red squirrel is now rare and rarely seen anywhere in the UK. As a result, the grey squirrel has taken the mantle of being the disturber of peace and very much maligned for its destructive habits. The red squirrel is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
Grey squirrels are active throughout the year and can be found in gardens at any time.
Squirrels damage and eat a wide range of plants, including ornamentals, fruit and vegetables.
Treatment and Control
Unfortunately, it is not possible or feasible to stop squirrels from entering the garden.
It is possible to cover plants individually with wire-mesh netting to prevent squirrels from getting at particularly susceptible plants – although this might mean covering everything!
Fruit and vegetables can be protected in a wire mesh fruit cage.
Bulbs and corms can be protected by placing a layer of wire mesh in the soil a few inches above where they are planted.
The bark of the main stem of trees and shrubs can be protected with spiral tree protectors or individual caging.
Trapping is a possibility, but other squirrels are likely to move in soon afterwards, so the garden won’t remain squirrel free for long.
Animal repellents and scaring devices are usually ineffective, and will probably only provide short-term protection.
Some people have success by feeding peanuts from a tree or elsewhere at the bottom of the garden or far from the main plant displays.
Wild bird food can be fed from a squirrel-proof bird feeder.
Red squirrels: everything you need to know
When did you last see a red squirrel and where were you? Or perhaps you’ve never seen one? There are only about 140,000 red squirrels left in Great Britain compared to 2.5 million grey squirrels – and because they are also very shy and timid, if you’ve seen a red squirrel lately, you’re very lucky!
Why are red squirrels so scarce and are they endangered?
The red squirrel is classified as ‘Near Threatened’ in England, Wales and Northern Ireland but is more commonly found in Scotland.
The reasons for the red squirrels decline are many and we can’t entirely blame the grey squirrel. The latter is not indigenous to Britain (whereas the red squirrel is) but with its introduction to this country back in the 1870s, the grey squirrel has thrived while the red has slowly and steadily fallen in numbers. The same is true in Italy where in 1948 just 2 pairs of grey squirrels escaped captivity and now the surrounding population of red squirrels is in dangerous decline. But why?
First, a little about the red squirrel…
Smaller than its grey cousin, the red squirrel is normally about 8–9 inches long and has a tail of about 6–8 inches. It has, as the name would suggest, a distinctive red coat and tufty ears which get even tuftier in the winter. It’s a species of tree squirrel and prefers to be up in the tree canopy, but the red squirrel can also swim should it need to.
The red squirrel likes to live in a den – or drey – which it makes for itself out of bark, twigs, leaves and moss in the fork or branches of a tree. Its life expectancy in the wild is just 3 years (as compared to 7 to 10 years in captivity). And with red squirrel kittens having a survival rate of between just 20% to 50%, it’s not easy for our dwindling red squirrel population to thrive.
So, Why the decline?
The highly adaptable (and slightly more adventurous) grey squirrel gets a lot of bad press about the red’s decline, but it’s not entirely their fault. A combination of complex factors have come together over the last 150 years to stack the odds against the smaller native red:
- The red squirrel isn’t as well as adapted for survival as the grey. As red squirrels don’t hibernate, their stashes of winter supplies which they’ve hidden during the warmer months are crucial to their survival. But their spatial memory isn’t as accurate as the grey’s which means they’re not as good as remembering where they’ve hidden their winter food reserves.
- Unfortunately the grey squirrel carries the squirrel Parapox virus. It’s a bit like Myxomatosis for squirrels and whilst it doesn’t seem to harm the greys, it kills the reds. Between 1900 and 1920 (just a few decades after the arrival of the greys in this country), the reds were almost wiped out by the virus.
- Because of their beautiful coats, red squirrels were hunted right up until 1927 and in other parts of Europe they still are.
- The erosion of the red squirrels’ preferred habitat by man is also partly to blame and while the grey squirrel can survive with a density of up to 8 squirrels per hectare of woodland, a red squirrel struggles to compete with a preferred density of population of 1 per hectare in broadleaved woodland or 0.1 per hectare in coniferous woodland.
- When put under pressure due to challenging environments or scarcity of food, red squirrels don’t breed as much.
What to look out for
The red squirrel is generally much more timid than the grey and they can be hard to spot. Lookout for tell tales signs such as large dreys in the trees, scratch marks on the bark or the remnants of pinecones which may look a bit like an apple core once the seeds have been stripped off. And if you are lucky enough to spot one, we’d love to hear about it via our social media channels.
Generally speaking, it is incredibly difficult to remove squirrels from the garden. Whilst they are considered to be a pest, they are also wild animals and so notoriously difficult to get rid of. Here is some advice on deterring squirrels from setting up home in your garden.
Squirrels and Cats can be pests on a bird table. Cats keep the birds away and squirrels eat the food.
Like most wild animals if there is a source of food they are likely to remain. So the simple answer would be to remove all nuts, fruit, vegetables, fungi, insects. However, this isn’t really practical in a domestic garden! Therefore limit the amount of easy food that is available. Leave bird food out in squirrel-proof feeders.
Although unsightly, 1.5″ (4 cm) wire mesh around the table can stop squirrels and cats, but it will also keep away larger birds such as thrushes, woodpeckers and jays. An alternative is an inverted biscuit tin fixed at the top of the post supporting the table. This can stop cats and squirrels from climbing up to the table.
Protect Trees & Shrub Bark With Spiral Tree Protectors
This will stop squirrels from flaying the bark from the tree for use in dray building.
Plant Bulbs That Squirrels Can’t Stomach
Squirrels don’t like the taste of daffodils, hyacinth, allium and snowdrops
Cover particularly susceptible fruit and vegetable plants with a wire mesh cage.
Sprinkle Chilli Flakes Around Plants
Squirrels can’t stand the hot, spicy flavours of chilli and so a liberal scattering of these could help deter them from the garden. Alternatively put plenty of pots filled with mint around the garden; squirrels find peppermint too strong for their sensitive noses.
Mulch Around Plants & Pots
Use a heavyweight mulch around plants and on the top of pots to prevent squirrels from attacking the roots.
Install Motion Activated Sprinklers
Sprinklers activated by movement could help to deter squirrels from the garden, as well as other unwanted domestic visitors like next doors cat.
How To Stop Squirrels Eating Bird Food
There are lots of bird feeders on the market and very few are squirrel resistant. If you have a problem with squirrels or want your birds and squirrels to live happily alongside each other in your garden, then follow these tips.
Buy a squirrel resistant bird feeder – a caged feeder restricting access to the food by squirrels but which still allows smalls birds from feeding.
Purchase a ‘Guardian’ which is a squirrel resistant cage that fits over the top of a regular bird feeder.
Invest in a more technological feeder which has a weight-activated shut off to the feeding port, so as soon as the squirrel lands on the feeder the access is closed.
Add a squirrel baffler, or dome to a hanging feeder to act as a blocker so that the squirrel cannot shimmy down the hanger to the feeder. A cheap way of doing this is to make a hole in the base of a plastic bowl and hang upside down over the top of the feeder.
Have you successfully managed to get rid of squirrels from your loft? What worked for you? We’d love for you to share your ideas and tips with us.
How to get rid of squirrels
Whilst some of us like to see squirrels bounding around the parks, most of us are not so happy to see them in our own garden, or even worse the house. So for those of us taunted by boisterous squirrels in the loft or scaring off our feathered friends, below is some useful advice to deal with them.
How To Get Rid Of Squirrels In The Loft
Squirrels can be a complete disaster for property owners and cause thousands of pounds of damage, by nibbling through wires and woodwork or tearing into insulation and plasterboard.
Here’s a few short term solutions to scare squirrels away to allow enough time for access points to be detected and sealed to prevent a further infestation. It would also be advisable to try a combination of ‘solutions’ to increase chances of success in removing the squirrels from the loft.
Make Sure Squirrels Can’t Reach Your Loft
Make sure that any trees or tall shrubs are more than 5-8 feet away from the property. This is the recognised distance that squirrels are able to jump, so if they can’t jump to the roof, they can’t get access to the roof.
Prevent Squirrels From Accessing The Loft
Prevention is better than cure, as always it’s always easier to prevent a problem than solve it. Ensure there are no access holes into your property. Use mesh less than 25mm wide, to cover all access points from the space behind soffits to the arrow slits in the gables.
Live trapping is another method of removing squirrels from the property, but this can be highly ineffective unless you know exactly how many squirrels have taken up residence. They will also have to be humanely destroyed if they’re grey squirrels as they are classified as a pest.
Deter Squirrels With The Scent Of Natural Predators
Products are available that contain the scent of squirrel predators such as foxes and these can be sprayed all over the area in which the squirrels have taken up residence to scare them off.
Sound And Light Tactics
Leaving a light on (a cool LED one) in the attic or a radio tuned to a ‘talking station’ can disturb squirrels and drive them out of your loft.