Red squirrels have a very varied diet - pine cones, flowers, shoots, fungi, bird eggs and much more!
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Red squirrels are omnivores, meaning that they eat both plant and animal matter. The seeds of various trees make up the majority of their diet, with coniferous species such as Scots pine, sitka spruce, Norway spruce and larch being important food sources in the UK. They also feed on broadleaved species including hazel, oak and beech. Aside from trees, they make full use of the forest around them, feeding on heather and blaeberry on the forest floor, a variety of flowers, shoots, bulbs and buds in the spring and fruit, berries and fungi in the autumn. They are opportunistic feeders and will take birds' eggs and insects. Bones and deer antlers are a good source of calcium and red squirrels will chew on these. Some commonly eaten foods are shown below.
Photo credits: Larch - Heiti Paves, Sitka spruce - Anne Burgess, Douglas fir - Roland Tanglao, beech - Bill Welch, hazel - Jacki-dee, sweet chestnut - Benjamin Gimmel, Sycamore - Mike Pennington, Rosehip - www.tOrange.us, Blackberry - Steve Daniels, Fungi - AnneTanne, catkins - Evelyn Simak, caterpillar - Mike Lobb
Despite popular myth, red squirrels do not hibernate. They are active all year round, and in the winter make use of foods that they have stored in the autumn. They bury cones and nuts underground or in gaps in tree trunks.
It's very easy to tell if squirrels are present in a forest, as they leave characteristic feeding signs. When a squirrel eats a cone, it works its way from the bottom up, pulling out scales to get at the seed inside. It turns the cone in its paws as it goes, normally leaving the top of the cone intact as these seeds are smaller and not worth the effort of pulling out. It then discards the cone. So if you find stripped cones and piles of scales under a tree, it's likely to be a squirrel.
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