Red Squirrels at Underscar

Maria Blakeley stayed at Underscar for 2 weeks in 2022, where she followed the antics of two young red squirrels born earlier that year, here’s what she saw.

Early morning would always see them arriving for a hazelnut breakfast.

They would always travel up to the feeder using the low stone wall to the side of the woodland walk. Occasionally he tried the rope handrails to get to the feeders. His balance skills need more practice.

The other squirrel liked to creep around the back of the trees to reach the hazelnuts I had carefully placed. Her skills in retrieving hazelnuts over the two-week observation period were brilliant. No matter where I hid the nuts she discovered them and seemed to enjoy eating a hazelnut breakfast upside down. She did this on several mornings. Every morning visit she made for breakfast she searched every crevice for the hidden nuts.

The squirrels opening a hazelnut can be heard from quite a distance – teeth gnawing at the shell. If you are in the woodland walk you will know if a squirrel is in the area because you can hear its teeth working away, like little bandsaws.

They would grab hold of a hazelnut between his paws, turning it several times to determine its contents. Sometimes he would find a bad nut and discard it – a lighter nut may have a shrivelled or absent kernel. You can see them breaking into the hazelnut using their front two sharp incisors. His teeth will continue to grow throughout his lifetime as they are worn away at the tip, just like our fingernails.

The other squirrel seems to clasp her nuts in her mouth and then be intent on burying them. I hope she can remember where her buried nuts are in winter. I did wonder if another red squirrel is just as likely to find the buried nut in winter.

The clever squirrels also often used one-half of the nut as a saucer. Alternatively, some red squirrels might hold the nut, and tear off chunks of shell until the kernel can be extracted. Perhaps they could learn either technique from their mother?

In my two weeks of observation, I was sometimes joined by other Underscar owners. They were as delighted as myself to see the red squirrel colony looking so healthy.