The Grey Squirrel Sciurus Carolinensis

Photograph by Malcolm Pusey

Size of adult 25-30cm (10-12in) over head and body ; 20-22cm(8-9in) along tail
Weighs about 500g (17oz) females slightly less.
Breeding season Jan-July.
Gestation period 42 to 45 days
No. of young average 3, range 1-7
Lifespan Known to live 8-9 years, but less than 1% reach more than 6 years.
Food bark of oak, beech; acorns, nuts, fungi.
Predators birds of prey; wild cat; casual hunters-stoat, pine marten, fox; control by man; traffic.
Distribution throughout England and Wales where there are trees; lowland Scotland and central counties of Ireland.

Not native: The Grey Squirrel is a native of eastern North America. Since it's numerous introductions between 1877 and 1929 into the British Isles, the grey squirrel has colonised most areas; however , in parts of north Norfolk, the Lake District, Northumberland and north Durham the red squirrel is the dominant species.

Wycombe District: Little progress had been made by the grey squirrel up until the beginning of World War 1 when it spread from Woburn Park Bedfordshire, into Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. The people involved in harvesting the beech woods for the then thriving furniture industry in the Wycombe District, must have been horrified by the damage the grey squirrel can cause to trees. The beech woods are an ideal habitat for the grey squirrel for not only do they enjoy stripping the bark from these trees and eating the beech-mast, but the small twigs of the beech with attached leaves make ideal material for drey building.

Dreys: Two kinds of nest are made. One is the winter drey, also used for a nursery. It is constructed of leafy twigs domed and usually in the angle between a branch and the trunk. It is lined with leaves, bark, moss or grass and especially honeysuckle bark. The summer drey is a leafy platform built out on the branches.

Bad habit: The grey squirrel has made a bad name for itself through its habit of stripping the bark from the branches of trees, preferring sycamore beech and oak. Attempts have been made in the past to eradicate the grey squirrel but have failed largely due to the squirrels ability to conceal itself within the cover of trees. Baited hoppers laced with poison are presently used to control numbers.

Grey V. Red: It is often said that the grey squirrel ousted the red in Britain but the latter appears to have been decimated by disease at about the time that the grey squirrel started to spread.

Migrations: Stories told by American pioneers and homesteaders tell of migrations by the grey squirrel hundreds of thousands strong. The animals seemed possessed with an unswerving desire to travel in a straight line. What prompted these ad-hoc migrations no one will ever know but on they went crossing open prairies, climbing mountain crags and swimming roaring torrents. The bodies of hundreds of dead squirrels strewed the countryside or floated in streams, grim testimonials to the determination of the travellers.

Tail tied?: On occasion the tails of several squirrels will become tangled. Unable to separate them and escape, the animals may starve to death. A report from a keeper at the New York Zoological Park noticed no fewer than seven squirrels huddled together in the Park grounds all with their tails tangled. All were adult; two females were dead and another soon died; four were recovered and released.