Feeding sign surveys

Squirrels leave very distinctive signs where they've been feeding - look for stripped cones and piles of scales

The easiest way to determine if squirrels are present in your local area is to check for signs of them feeding. Squirrels eat the cones of conifer trees in a very distinctive manner - quite differently to the way a mouse or bird would, for example. Searching for the remains of eaten cones is a simple way to find out if squirrels are present and also to learn what they've been eating.

What's eaten this cone?

The three main creatures who are likely to have eaten a cone that you come across in a wood in the UK are a squirrel (either red or grey), a mouse (most likely a wood mouse?) or a bird. In Scotland you could find a cone that's been eaten by a crossbill, but you're more likely to find cones that have been eaten by woodpeckers, and these are very distinctive. Follow our easy-to-use guide below to check what has eaten your cone...


I've found a squirrelled cone - but what type of tree is it from?

Squirrels strip a cone from the base up. They hold the cone in their paws and pull the scales off with their sharp teeth to get at the seed inside. Once they've finished eating, they discard the cone. This means that where squirrels have been feeding, you can often find both the discarded cone and the scales that the squirrel has pulled off. Below are some pictures of commonly eaten cones in the UK.


Sometimes you may find just one or two of these cones but it's common to come across large piles of stripped cones and scales underneath individual trees or sometimes on stumps or fallen trees. Check out these pictures below to see what to look out for.

Squirrelled Norway spruce cones with a big pile of pulled out scales.
Old squirrelled larch cones
Freshly eaten, new (still green) Sitka spruce cones.

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