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We normally get Red Squirrels in the garden of our house in southern Vienne. We are out in the countryside and there are several big Oak trees close by with one actually in the garden. Also there are quite a lot of hazel bushes and Walnut trees so plenty to attract them. Also the garden backs onto some woodland which is mixed but has a lot of coppiced sweet chestnut.Squirrel3

In fact Red squirrels are just about omnivores in that they will occasionally eat birds eggs, and sometimes invertebrates, but in the main they eat fruits, seeds and nuts. They are not supposed to be able to digest acorns which Grey squirrels can.  When there is a plentiful supply of seeds and nuts they will store them by burying them in the ground. Once I put out a lot of sunflower seeds in my garden in France for the birds and unbeknown to me the squirrel decided to store some for the winter. However a few weeks later the seeds germinated and rapidly grew so that year I had a lawn with large numbers of sunflowers in it. It looked OK so I left them to flower, although it made mowing the lawn more difficult. The squirrel obviously hid the seeds in little groups as in most cases two or three sun flowers would grow up from the same place.Squirrel2

It is the common view that the squirrel remembers where they have hidden the nuts but I question that. My evidence comes from when a few years ago I was commercially growing hundreds and in some cases thousands of small deciduous trees. I had a huge Polly tunnel and in the autumn I would plant up vast numbers of acorns, sweet chestnuts horse chestnuts and so on. Squirrels albeit Greys as this was in England were quite a problem as sometimes they would get inside the Polly tunnel and dig up and eat my acorns and nuts. But what I noticed was that some pots they did not bother to dig out the seed and the ones they left were always pots in which the seed had gone rotten,  or pots containing very small seeds such as Lime or Rowan.  I reckon they could smell which pot contained a seed which was fresh and germinating. So it is my contention that they do not remember where they buried their nuts it is just that they have a good sense of smell and can locate buried nuts in that way. It would be fairly easy to test this theory by burying some nuts in the garden and then checking how many are there the following Spring. Should you have the time and inclination. I have also read that they mark the nuts with their own scent and this helps them locate the buried food but that would still not fully account for their behaviour in my Polly tunnel.

Red Squirell

Red Squirell

The colour of Red squirrels varies quite a lot based on which part of the world they come from, and the time of year. Their full name is the Eurasian Red Squirrel, and they are found throughout Europe though where there are Grey squirrels they have become much rarer or disappeared altogether. Their range extends right across Asia as far as Japan. In France they tend to be somewhat darker than in England, less ruddy brown more chestnut-brown.

So far there are no Grey squirrels in France, they have been introduced into Italy and they are spreading so inevitably they will get to France one day. Then the Reds will no doubt suffer as they have done in GB and is now happening in Italy. At the present rate of spread it will be many many years before they reach Poitou-Charentes.

For posts about other mammals you might see in France click French Mammals.