Red squirrel

(Sciurus vulgaris)




Facts about this animal

The red squirrel is a medium-sized tree-dwelling squirrel. Its head-body length ranges from 20-25 cm, the tail from 15-20 cm, and the body-weight from 230-400 g. Males and females have the same size.


The fur is soft and the colour of the upper parts varies from light red to almost black. Different colour types occur within the same population, but often one colour is dominating, e.g. in Berne, most squirrels are not red, but blackish. The throat and belly are always creamy to white. The summer coat is short and there are no or only short ear tufts. The winter coat is thicker with long ear tufts. The hairs on the tail are 5 to 8 cm long.


The red squirrel is diurnal. At night it sleeps in ball-shaped nests (called drey )with a diameter of about 30 cm built from branches and lined with moss, leaves, grass and bark, in tree hollows or, to the dismay of ornithologists, nest boxes for birds. It is extremely arboreal living in coniferous, deciduous and mixed forests as well as in zoos, city parks and the gardens of suburbia. In Central Europe, red squirrels have home ranges of 2-3 ha.


Its sharp, curved claws allow the red squirrel to climb overhanging branches or to run down a tree with the head down, and its long bushy tail helps to balance when jumping from tree to tree and reduces the rate of fall.


The reproductive season begins in January or February. After a gestation period of 38 days, 2-5 cubs are born. These are naked and blind and weigh 8-10 g at birth. The eyes open at the age of 30-32 days, and the youngsters start leaving the nest at the age of 40 days.


Red squirrels feed on acorns, hazelnuts, other seeds of deciduous trees, berries, fruit, shoots, birds' eggs, mushorooms, and strips conifer cones to get at the seeds within, or occasionally may remove the bark of trees to get access to the tree sap.

Did you know?
That red squirrels do not hibernate, but will remain in their dreys for several days at a time during bad weather?


Name (Scientific) Sciurus vulgaris
Name (English) Red squirrel
Name (French) Ecureuil roux, Ecureuil d'Eurasie
Name (German) Eichhörnchen
Name (Spanish) Ardilla roja
Local names Croatian: Crvena vjeverica
Czech: Veverka obecná
Danish: Almindeligt egern
Dutch: Rode eekhoorn
Estonian: Orav
Finnish: Orava
Hungarian: Mókusfélék
Italian: Scoiattolo comune
Latvian: Vāvere
Norwegian: Rødt ekorn
Polish: Wiewiórka pospolita
Portuguese: Esquilo
Romansh: Stgilat
Slovenian: Navadna veverica
Swedish: Ekorre
CITES Status Not listed
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
Markus Koljonen



Range Europe and Northern Asia
Habitat Primarily arboreal (deciduous and coniferous forests) but will descend to ground level to forage.
Wild population Unknown and decreasing. In 1999 the density was less than 0.1 to 1.5 individuals per hectare (Red List IUCN 2011)
Zoo population 163 reported to ISIS (2006)

In the Zoo

Red squirrel


How this animal should be transported

For air transport, Container Note 79 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
Oliver Spalt

Why do zoos keep this animal

Tree squirrels are among the species which readily choose the zoo as their habitat and become habituated to humans. In its Eurasian range, there is, therefore, hardly a need for keeping squirrels in cages, except may be in the United Kingdom, where the species is threatened due to competition with introduced North American grey squirrels. All photos on this page show free-living red squirrels at Swiss zoos.