The Red Squirrel is a small boreal species of squirrel that is found across North America in coniferous and mixed forests from sea level to elevations of 2330 m (Nagorsen 2005); it also occurs in urban and suburban areas. It is found across British Columbia, including Vancouver Island, but is absent from the southwestern coast region south of Rivers Inlet, west of the Cascade and Coast Mountains-while it is present on Vancouver Island, it is absent from the adjacent small islands (Nagorsen 2005) . In the southwestern coast region, it is replaced by the Douglas Squirrel
(Nagorsen 2005). It was introduced to the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) in 1950 and is now established on 11 islands (Nagorsen 2005).
In British Columbia, the Red Squirrel is identified by its small size, grey to olive-brown dorsal coat, white belly (sometimes pale yellow or greyish), bushy tail (tail hairs tipped with red), tufted ears and distinctive white eye-ring (Nagorsen 2005). It is similar in appearance to the Douglas squirrel, but the Douglas Squirrel has a rust-coloured belly (Nagorsen 2005). In some parts of the Cascades it is difficult to separate the Douglas Squirrel from the Red Squirrel, and the two species may hybridize (Nagorsen 2005). In areas where it co-occurs with the introduced Eastern Grey Squirrel, the two can be separated based on size--the Eastern Grey Squirrel is larger.
Melanistic Red Squirrels have been observed in Nova Scotia (Huynh 2011).
The Red Squirrel is a diurnal, territorial species that does not hibernate and is active throughout the winter, depending on substantial food caches or middens of cones for survival during this period (Hanrahan 2007, Nagorsen 2005). Territories are centered around the middens (Nagorsen 2005). Nests are constructed in coniferous trees, in tree cavities or branches and in underground burrows; burrows are constructed in and around middens (Nagorsen 2005). Nests provide shelter in winter (Hanrahan 2007).
View a video of a Red Squirrel stripping bark from a shrub to use for insulation in its nest in winter.
Red Squirrels are omnivorous. They feed primarily on conifer seeds from a variety of tree species (spruce, fir, pine and hemlock) , but will also eat fungi, flowers, berries, young birds, bird eggs and some invertebrates (Nagorsen 2005). Conifer seeds are harvested in late summer and autumn and stored (mostly) in central middens above ground (these may be quite large, 30 to 40 square metres and half a metre deep or more) (Nagorsen 2005). Some food is stored below ground (Hanrahan 2007). The Red Squirrel is a well-known predator of young birds and bird eggs, and Hanrahan (2007) says "Their success as predators of eggs and nestlings gives them a bad name with some biologists concerned about their predation on songbirds with already low populations".
Twenty-five subspecies of Red Squirrel are recognized, with seven reported for BC (Nagorsen 2005).
1) Tamiasciurus hudsonicus columbiensis (northern and central BC)
2) Tamiasciurus hudsonicus lanuginosus (coastal mainland, Rivers Inlet north to the Skeen River, and some islands)
3) Tamiasciurus hudsonicus petularis (extreme northwestern BC)
4) Tamiasciurus hudsonicus picatus (coastal mainland, northwestern BC)
5) Tamiasciurus hudsonicus richardsoni (southeastern BC)
6) Tamiasciurus hudsonicus streatori (south-central BC)
7) Tamiasciurus hudsonicus (Peace River-Fort Nelson region)
Read an account about Red Squirrels in Ontario.