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Grey squirrels (Sciurus Carolinensis) build nests (dreys) of twigs and leaves in the forks of trees as well as tree hollows known as dens; these are used for both shelter and breeding.
They breed twice in a year, first litters being born in February and March after a gestation period of 45 days. The young are weaned at ten weeks old. Second litters are born in June and July leaving the nest in August and September. Litters average 3 with a range of 1 to 7 young.
The young are blind, deaf and naked at birth, weighing 13-17 grams. Lower incisors erupt at 21 days and ears open at 25 to 28 days, eyes open and upper incisors erupt at 28-35 days, weight now around 90gms.
Young will start exploring and eating solids at around seven weeks and weaned at 8-10 weeks. Between 13-16 weeks the nestling coat is replaced with a seasonal coat and dispersal begins soon after.
The Young are sometimes capable of breeding at 6 or 7 months, but they usually will be at least 10-12 months before breeding.
The grey squirrel is a rodent, their incisors grow throughout their lives, with an outer layer of enamel that wears away more slowly than the inner dentine. Canines are absent being replaced by the characteristic rodent diastema.What do they look like?
Their head and body length is 25 to 26 cm plus 22cm of tail. Weight is about 500g; both sexes are of similar size. Their bodies are well adapted for climbing and jumping, sharp claws for gripping and a long bushy tail for balance.
The winter coat is grey above and a white underside; the summer coat is shorter and sleeker and more of a brownish grey.
The grey squirrel was deliberately introduced to Britain from North America on several occasions between 1876 and 1929. Since then it has spread throughout most of mainland England and Wales, though it is still absent from much of Scotland and offshore islands including the Isle of Wight.
The initial spread was prevented by intense trapping and shooting, mainly by game keeping, reduction in gamekeeping between 1940 and 1945 allowed grey squirrels to establish more widely.Where do they live and what do they eat?
It is mainly a resident of broad-leaved and mixed broad-leafed/conifer woodland but also found in copses and hedgerows. It is a common resident in parks, gardens and wherever there are many trees. The grey squirrel is highly adaptable.
Grey Squirrels will eat a wide variety of nuts, fruit buds and shoots or fungi, bird's eggs and nestling. In suburban gardens, much of their food comes from food put out for birds or deliberately put out for squirrels. Surplus food is buried for retrieval at a later date.
In captivity, grey squirrels can live up to 20 years and 8 or 9 years in the wild. But less than 1% will live for more than six years.
The grey squirrel is active before sunrise, especially in winter with activity ending well before sunset. The main peak is 4 to 5 hours after dawn. They are active in the daytime where they are commonly seen and identified; they also leave many signs of their presence.
Dreys are the most visible sign, the core of pine cones dropped below their dreys, or below trees from which they have eaten from, nuts with holes in and fungi caps with teeth marks. Squirrels also strip bark, particularly from deciduous trees such as beech and sycamore. Often they will take their food to a particular tree stump to eat it, and the remains are scattered on the ground.
Droppings vary in shape and colour depending on the diet; they may be spherical like those of the Rabbit or more elongate, somewhat similar to those of rats.
Squirrel tracks are visible in mud or snow. The forefoot has four long, slender toes around a rectangular pad; the thumb is rudimentary and not seen in the track. The hind foot is elongated, with five toes - the inner fifth toe appears thumb-like. As squirrels move by hopping over the ground, the trail shows all four feet close together in a line.
The most severe damage in urban areas arises where Grey Squirrels enter the roof spaces of houses and other buildings by climbing the walls or jumping from nearby trees. Once inside they chew woodwork and ceilings, strip the insulation from electrical wiring, tear up fibreglass insulation to form a drey and sometimes drown in cold water storage tanks. Activity in houses not only causes concern as far as damage is concerned but also causes disturbance to sleep patterns. Cases of grey squirrel attacks are few but do occur. Most seem to relate to squirrels being fed then the food source stopped; as a consequence, the squirrel tries to get attention which may Involve close contact with people in the vicinity rather than actual attacks.
In the garden they will take fruit such as strawberries, apples and plums: raid the nests of small birds and dig holes in lawns to bury food.
They will carry off bird feeders or coconut shells if they can chew through the string. The significant financial implications of grey squirrel activity relate to damage to forestry, woodlands and parks where they damage trees, mainly sycamore and beech, by stripping bark. This can often result in the weakening or death of leading shoots resulting in a misshapen tree.