18th October 2017, by Gill Hatcher
What could be better on a crisp October day than watching as red squirrels scurry round your garden, coats perfectly colour coordinated for the season. However, it’s at this time of year that Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels often receives messages from members of the public who are concerned that their regular garden visitors have strangely disappeared.
Although disappointing for their human friends, in the majority of cases this disappearance is actually good news. It’s autumn, and red squirrels simply don’t have the time to pay us a visit. They’re far too busy taking advantage of all the tasty, nutritious food that nature has on offer. Nuts, berries, mushrooms… everything squirrels love and need to stay healthy is in season right now.
Autumn is a crucial time of year for red squirrels. They’re not just gorging themselves, they’re also preparing for the harsher winter months ahead. Unlike some other Scottish mammals, red squirrels don’t hibernate, which means they’re going to need a good stockpile of food to keep them going. If you’re out enjoying a woodland walk this month, keep an eye on the forest floor and you might be lucky to spot a squirrel frantically caching some of its supplies.
Squirrels know not to put all their nuts in one basket, and will bury or hide multiple food stores across their home range. They know they can’t trust their neighbours not to steal, probably because they’ve been guilty of it themselves! You might have heard of squirrels pretending to cache food, to send any potential onlookers on a false trail.
As if that wasn’t enough work for one squirrel to be getting on with, they’ll also be busy preparing their winter home (called a ‘drey’). They might not hibernate, but like all of us, red squirrels prefer to stay cosy and dry in bad weather. While we’re shopping for woolly jumpers and setting the timer on the thermostat, red squirrels are out collecting grass, moss, lichens and feathers: anything that will keep their drey well-insulated. Over the winter they’ll spend more time nestled up in their homes, which is why you may also see less of them during this time.
While they may not be visiting our gardens as regularly, autumn is one of the best times of year to get out into nature and see red squirrels in action. We’ve compiled a handy map of tranquil woodland walks and great days out across Scotland where you stand a good chance of seeing one.
And of course, if you do see a red squirrel, be sure to report your sighting on our website!