Here comes autumn

Original Author: Steve Willis

As the seasons turn squirrel activity really picks up – read on to find out what our furry friends are up to.

The days are shortening, there’s a chill in the air, and everywhere you look the trees are starting to turn. It’s autumn.

Photo credit: Raymond Leinster

There is a huge amount of squirrel activity over these next few months, and for many squirrels it’s make or break. Autumn is the point in year when there is the most natural food available to squirrels. As trees set their seed in late summer squirrels eagerly anticipate the feast to come. They often start eating and gathering various fruits and seeds whilst they are still ripening. They will be keen to eat their fill as soon as they can, but also to begin hoarding seeds in their stores (called ‘caches’) for the winter period.

Squirrels are scatter hoarders, meaning they move seeds (individually!) around and bury them throughout their home range.

Key foods they will be seeking out are beech, hazel, and oak, all of which will be producing mature seeds (which is all collectively called ‘mast’) right now. The amount varies from year-to-year, with some years pretty lean and some years producing vast amounts of food. Across Scotland the past two autumns have been good mast years, and hence good for squirrels. Both red and grey squirrels benefit from this, but greys are slightly better adapted to broadleaved seeds and may do a little better after good mast years. After the rather chilly and damp summer the trees may not be as productive this year, but you never quite know.

Summer is a tough time for squirrels, with little natural food and the stresses and strains of the breeding season taking a toll. Some female squirrels will have had two litters and will be in poor condition. They will need all the food they can get to see them through winter. Studies have shown that females that spend more time storing and retrieving food enjoy far better winter survival. Likewise the young squirrels (called ‘kittens’ fact fans!) will be dispersing around now, and they seem to do this in pretty random directions, sometimes showing up long distances from any decent sized woodlands. Many of these won’t make it, but the odd one will find a suitable wood and set up home. Please keep your eyes peeled for red or grey squirrels and report them to our website. Every record matters and we check them regularly!

Enjoy the autumn, it’s a bonny time of year. Oh, and please, please drive carefully if you’re out – our little red friends don’t enjoy the best road sense…

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