Wildlife Column: Grey Squirrel kittens are emerging in Sheffield

I caught the moment in Chancet Wood as a litter of grey squirrel kittens were just emerging from the nesting-hole in an old oak tree. Not everyone likes the ‘greys’ as they are seen as the North American usurpers that have pushed out the native ‘reds’.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 12:00 am
Grey squirrel kitten taken by Prof Ian Rotherham.

However, it has to be said that the youngsters still look very endearing even for a non-native, alien, invasive species! Of course for many people the grey squirrel is the only one that they have ever known. In the old days, gamekeepers, park keepers, and foresters all regarded the grey as a ‘tree rat’ and vermin to be shot on sight and their dreys to be ruthlessly destroyed. With the onset of winter approaching, grey squirrels will have added leaves as insulation to their winter nests or dreys. The female squirrel has earlier built a summer drey for herself and her youngsters; generally a rough ball of twigs and leaves with moss, feathers, and vegetation as a lining. This is often in a tree-hollow or perhaps in a tree fork either in the trunk or between higher branches. Insulation in the winter nest helps the squirrels see out any cold snap or other adverse weather. In the UK, grey squirrels don’t hibernate and so will raid bird-tables for food or otherwise seek out hidden caches of acorns and the like – ‘squirreled away’ for a rainy day. Some grey squirrels will produce a litter of youngsters which, like the ones I saw, emerge in late winter. Their chances of survival depend on their parents’ ability to find food.The breeding season extends from around late December through to August; strongly dependent on weather and available food. After a long tree-top chase, a female mates with a dominant male. Following a 42- to 45-day gestation, grey squirrels normally produce two to four kittens with a maximum of eight. When born, squirrel kittens are usually around 14g and 18g (half an oz.) in weight; heavier females producing larger kittens. The mother will suckle them for fifty to seventy days. Professor Ian D. Rotherham, researcher, writer & broadcaster on wildlife & environmental issues, is contactable on [email protected]; follow Ian’s blog (https://ianswalkonthewildside.wordpress.com/ ) and Twitter @IanThewildside