As we celebrate the fifth annual Great Scottish Squirrel Survey (running from the 2nd – 8th October), when recording those all-important sightings, how can we ensure that the squirrels we’re spotting are indeed the species we believe? When a sighting is brief – perhaps seen from a moving vehicle, or a fleeting glimpse of a furry tail in a tree – what tell-tale signs can we look for to distinguish between Scotland’s native red squirrel and the non-native grey squirrel?
Let’s start with red squirrels! Because their fur colour varies so much (generally a chestnut coat, but also can include black, or even grey), it’s helpful to try and distinguish other identifiable characteristics. Red squirrels have ear tufts, which can be lost in the summer months, but generally re-appear in the autumn. They also have a smaller, slender body than the grey squirrel, with an adult red squirrel being around half the size/weight of an adult grey squirrel.
Grey squirrels are larger than red squirrels (they can reach almost double their size) and have small ears with no tufts. They can often present with red colouring, which is why it’s important to consider other characteristics when spotting greys. The most definitive way to tell them apart from reds is by their distinctive white fringes or ‘halos’ around their tails which are absent from the tails of reds.
All sightings are valuable, whether they’re from a back garden or the wider countryside. Once verified, these sightings will be added to our sightings map – a countrywide record of red and grey squirrel distributions, which helps form the basis of both our short and long-term plans for red squirrel conservation. You can report your sightings on our website here: scottishsquirrels.org.uk/squirrel-sightings
Happy squirrel spotting, and please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team with any queries or comments about the squirrels you see on your adventures! You can reach us at 0131 312 4719, via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on social media – Facebook @SavingScotlandsRedSquirrels and X (formerly Twitter) @ScotSquirrels.