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 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.

 

pic from dan

Squirrels

Squirrels eat cones whilst sat in a tree and strip them 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. Some bits of the scales may be left on the cone, giving it a raggedy or feathered appearance. Once they've finished eating they discard the cone, so the best place to look for squirrelled cones is under a tree. Sometimes squirrels take cones to a stump or log to eat, so it is a good idea to check out places like this as well. You will often find piles of scales alongside the eaten cones.

pic from dan

Mice

Mice gnaw a cone rather than pulling off the scales, which leaves a discarded cone with a much neater appearance than one eaten by a squirrel. They normally take cones elsewhere to eat, so you may find a pile of cones, although the locations are often partly hidden, e.g. in a hole. 

pic from dan

Birds

Birds pull scales out to get at the seed in side, but the discarded cones have a much more raggedy appearance than a squirrelled cone.   more detail...

 

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

It's interesting to know what a squirrel has been eating and if you're not very good at tree ID, examining the cones is a good way to find out what species it is. 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. 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.

Stay connected

Sign up to our newsletter and we will send you a monthly update of news and events at Trees for Life