The American Red Squirrel's 'chuk-chuk' in the conifers is no more just a sign of its survival. It is an appeal to man to help the tiny creature thrive and add to the beauty of the woods.
May 12, 2019
The population of red squirrels on record is estimated to be only around 140,000. This has generated genuine concern in the Forestry Commission, and currently authorities are working within partnership projects to design a long-term strategy to conserve and help multiply the surviving population.
The dwindling numbers are cause for alarm, and there are dedicated forums that deliberate and share concern and act in accordance to the law, with the authorities to help save the American Red Squirrel. These animals are limited to two or three kittens per litter, and seasonal second-time mating is also subject to the right conditions prevailing.
Red squirrels are also referred to as dreys and they build large nests. Their nests are commonly observed in the forks of tree trunks. They are known to be solitary animals, whose sole purpose of 'socializing' is to mate. By nature, they are very elusive. A lot of their day is well within the comfort of the tree canopies.
However, another contradictory fact co-existing with this observation is red squirrel communities who indulge in social interactions and even share dreys to keep warm. This observation is usually made during the cold winter months. They are observed wide in range, especially during the mating season.
The courtship specific displays are a fest for the eyes of any avid animal lover. The American red squirrels produce their young, known as kittens, in spring. The female usually gives birth to up to six young, who are born after an in-term period of nearly one and a half month, after mating. They nurture and bring up the young.
They flaunt a territorial attitude over their brood. Sadly, only between twenty and fifty percent of the kittens survive. The recorded density of the American red squirrels is about a hectare in broad-leaved woodland areas. They are on record with a low of 0.1 per hectare in coniferous woodland areas.
They are stalked by predators like goshawks and pine marten. When they wander into urban areas, domestic cats threaten their survival.
The young develop a complete set of teeth within twelve weeks and become insatiable seed eaters. They are easily identified with their red fur. They are very small and have ear tuffs. The difference between the males and females is negligible. They display an open fondness for pine cones, larch and spruce.
They don't stop at that; they have also been observed to savor fungi, tender shoots and fruits and even birds' eggs! These clever squirrels can actually choose between good and bad nuts. They do this by holding the nuts in their paws and seem to have some nature gifted insight.
Reds are not hibernating animals. They survive the cold winter months with the stored food supplies of fungi in trees.
Another way nature garners them for winter survival is through the weight they put on in summer, when food is plentiful. The resultant fat keeps them warm and this is especially important for breeding females. Their survival is mainly threatened by the increasing number of their gray furred cousins and the spread of squirrel poxvirus.
The incessant encroachment on forested areas due to the ever-increasing human population and the road traffic are responsible for the decrease in the number of Reds. It's easy to identify the presence of the Reds. The telltale signs include large dreys, scratched barks and chewed pine cones. The foot tapping, they display is to indicate agitation and anger.
The survival of this beautiful animal depends a lot on the stand we take today. It largely depends on the management of the coniferous forests. It is up to us to conserve and help these otherwise helpless animals to thrive within our forest cover, and monitor their growth and well-being.