Red squirrel mating ritual? Comments please

Red squirrel on the left and scabby squirrel (before he lost some of the fur on his back) on the right

Red squirrel on the left and scabby squirrel (before he lost some of the fur on his back) on the right

In the mornings last week, while it was still grey dark and the squirrels in the tops of the larch trees were silhouettes against the sky, our two red squirrels put on an incredible display of agility in what I am sure was their mating ritual. One chased the other from tree to tree, with death-defying leaps on to the most slender of branches. From time to time they circled the trunk of a tree, sometimes going up and sometimes going down. Their speed and their sure-footedness simply amazed me.

At daylight the circuits of the trees continued, but I could now see that the pursuer was the darker squirrel, now easily recognised because of some missing fur on his back, and the quarry was the much more red-coloured squirrel.  This was in complete contrast to the preceding months, when the redder squirrel was very much the dominant one, and while they did not squabble much, the darker one (now called scabby squirrel because of its missing fur) always gave way to the redder one.

There was no aggression in this treetop chase, and once, when scabby squirrel lost his lady, I saw him actively searching for her; up and down trees, watching from the high branches, and homing in eventually on some fir trees, where he eventually found her and the chase continued. At one point the redder squirrel was feeding on peanuts on a bird feeder and scabby squirrel waited patiently on the ground, looking up amorously (if that can be said of a squirrel) and certainly impatiently.  This activity lasted four days and things began to quieten down, with the squirrels returning to their ‘normal’ feeding and resting routine, and scabby squirrel being seen in the garden less often.

I am now convinced that we have a pair of mating squirrels, even though they may be siblings, and I was just sorry that I couldn’t visibly confirm their mating. The fact that all this took place over no more than four days makes me wonder if squirrels come into season, and that this was the trigger. I suppose they must, but someone with much more knowledge might be able to advise me on this. I look forward now to seeing a brood (is that the collective term?) of young squirrels in the larch trees in a few months.

There was a strange twist to the squirrel tale this morning. As I was working away in the office I was watching a squirrel at the squirrel feeder. Its tail began to twitch and it suddenly ran down the tree and vigorously chased off another red squirrel –one I had not noticed – on the ground 15 metres along the wood. Both squirrels looked identical and I began to wonder if we now had three red squirrels. I watched the interloper sneaking back and saw that it certainly knew its way about and was keen to get to the squirrel feeder. It poked about in the (sparse) undergrowth, obviously keeping an eye on the other squirrel at the feeder, and took its chance when the feeder was vacated to dash up, grab a nut and run off. In due course I managed to confirm through the binoculars that neither of these squirrels was scabby squirrel; that is unless a new magic hair-restoring potion has suddenly become available in squirrel land. I last saw scabby squirrel two days ago and he was his usual scabby self. We must therefore have three red squirrels visiting. Because two look almost identical I wonder how long this may have been the position. In any case I am delighted.

My knowledge of red squirrel breeding is limited, and if anyone reading this can shed more light on my observations I’d be obliged.

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2 Responses to Red squirrel mating ritual? Comments please

  1. In my experience it is always males chasing each other up and down the tree trunks. We have about 5 boys and just 1 female that I’ve seen so far. Saw her for the first time the year about 2 weeks ago and we’re really hoping she’s going to produce kits next month. Gestation period is 45-48 days they usually produce 2 litters per year. You should join our organisation :o)

  2. Thanks for that Kirsty. I’ve seen what I think are two different types of chasing here. The first is the chasing of the reddest squirrel through the trees, up and down and round and round the trunk, by the squirrel I formerly referred to as ‘dark squirrel’, now ‘scabby squirrel’. There was no aggression in this chasing, hence my assumption of male chasing female. When the third squirrel comes into the garden it is chased off very aggressively by the redder squirrel (I’ve never seen scabby squirrel chasing it). The chase only finishes when the third squirrel has left the garden or gone from the back of the house to the front. I’ll keep watching and bear in mind your experience, which with red squirrels will be much more than mine.
    I’ll have a look at the P & K Red Squirrel Group website and consider joining. I’m sure I gave a talk to the group at the Birnam Institute a good few years back and they were a knowledgeable and interesting bunch.

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