The Red Squirrel - l'écureuil. [The English and French names are related and mean 'shady-tail']

Caught red-handed, stealing a walnut, this squirrel is embarrassed by the size of the booty. Too big to hold in the mouth it must attempt, unsuccessfully, to hop away on two hind legs carrying the nut in its front paws. And it has to hop about 100 metres to the nearest woody shelter. This fellow has a black tail, but many are almost entirely black, particularly during the summer. The tone changes with the seasons. As winter progresses, the coat will probably become more uniformly brown. In summer the ears often do not have the tufts of hairs which are so often considered characteristic of the species, and they are absent in this specimen.

The species seems too common a creature to comment on, yet there are features not too well known. The British race is now confined to the extremities of the land and some off shore islands, such as the Isle of Wight. Even the race in Scotland has been boosted through re-introductions. The continental forms are more varied in their coloration. It is commonly written that the species is more at home in conifer woods, where there are plentiful pine nuts. The diet is usually listed as nuts, flower buds and other buds, and bark. They are rodents and as with all such, the teeth constantly grow and need to be worn down with constant eating. There is a large gap between the teeth in the cheeks, so that it is possible to stuff food in the cheeks. But finding enough food is hard work. In warm wet winters, when nuts germinate or rot, they may well starve and springtime is also difficult. So.. they store up the plentiful nuts of autumn, burying them, or stuffing them in crevices, and hope to find them when needed. A squirrel would need to eat up to 20 walnuts to satisfy its daily needs (about 5% of body weight), although walnuts are particularly nutritious. Allowing about 15 minutes a trip, it would take a squirrel 5 hours to collect sufficient nuts for the day and yet more for the winter store. On the way it must avoid the feral cats and the martens. The populations are usually far less than one imagines, usually less than one per hectare, or even only 1 in 7 hectares. Each squirrel may make several nests (dreys), usually each about a foot in diameter against the trunk of a tree where it branches, though I believe that our squirrels mostly hide up in the many holes in the trunks, for although I see the squirrels, finding their dreys is well-nigh impossible. The females may produce three or so young twice a year in spring and summer, but few will survive a season. After mating, the male couldn't give a damn.

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