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Grey Squirrels – Good and Bad
By Ark Wildlife
3rd September 2013
About Grey Squirrels
Grey squirrels are not a native species to the British Isles, they were introduced to the UK in the late nineteenth century and have become the dominant species across England, Wales and much of Scotland displacing the native red squirrel as they spread. They are larger and have a more varied diet than the red squirrel allowing them to outcompete and rapidly spread at the expense of our native species.
Woodland is the natural habitat for all our squirrels and they build nests high up in trees called ‘dreys’. Woodland provides all the food and cover they need, with their diet based on nuts, fungi, berries, fruit, bark and sap. They are occasionally known to take nesting birds eggs and young when the opportunity arises. Squirrels do not hibernate but may become dormant during particularly cold spells, preferring to stay wrapped up warm and dry in their dreys. Grey squirrels can be seen feeding on the ground more often than their red cousins giving them greater access to feeding opportunities.
Squirrels in the Garden
Red squirrels are shy animals with specialised diets preferring to remain in the trees, especially coniferous woodland meaning they are unlikely to visit the average garden. Grey squirrels on the other hand are quite happy to adapt to urban living and with their opportunist eating habits and willingness to spend time on the ground brings them in contact with humans and gardens on a regular basis, even making them home if a suitable tree house is available nearby.
On the plus side
We have customers who live high in tenement blocks who never see a bird but get regular visits from grey squirrels. When nature forces itself into even the most inhospitable of places you must admire the courage and tenacity of the creatures involved. Squirrels are delightfully entertaining animals, intelligent and playful. In the garden they will live their lives in full view providing fascinating insight into the living world.
On the down side
Grey squirrels are opportunistic feeders and their varied diet often brings them into conflict with gardeners. They will eat all sorts of plant material, including buds, catkins, flowers and stems. They also strip bark from trees and bury seeds and nuts digging numerous holes in borders and beds. Both red and grey squirrels also enjoy much of the food we put out for wild birds and they can be quite destructive, chewing though plastic and metal feeders to get to the seeds and nuts inside.
Top tips for living with squirrels
- Feeding squirrels in their own part of the garden with a good quality squirrel food can deter them from approaching the bird feeders.
- Be careful to avoid squirrels seeing where the bird/squirrel food is stored. They are very capable of ‘breaking and entering’ the home, through doors, windows and house eaves.
- To protect bird feeders you can apply baffles and fit cages or purchase purpose built squirrel proof feeders.
- Buy 100% guaranteed squirrel proof squirrel buster bird feeders. They cost a little more but you quickly get your money back through savings in food!
- Feeding squirrels from a squirrel feeder in a quiet corner of the garden can help keep them out of the flower and veg plot.
- Where squirrels are being a nuisance and physical barriers are not possible, a good coating of chilli powder or hot chilli sauce will put them off feeding without damaging plants or property.
- Coating bird food with chilli powder or hot chilli sauce will put off squirrels but is tasteless to birds who will continue to consume the food without hesitation.
And finally: We get as many calls asking how to ‘get rid’ of squirrels as we do about how to care for them. So here’s our words of warning. The grey squirrel is now one of the UK’s commonest mammals with a population estimated in excess of 2 million. If you remove a family of squirrels from your garden, nature will simply make sure others quickly move in to fill the void. It’s probably far easier to learn to live with our inquisitive, acrobatic North American cousins, than wage a war against them that can never be won!