Distinguishing Features – Sciurus vulgaris is considered to be one of the most physically variable mammals of the palearctic region, at least in physical appearance. The coat color of these squirrels varies from light-red to black on their heads and backs, and all, except those that have black coats, have white fur on their stomachs. Like many other tree squirrels, the species has long tufts of hair on its ears and long furry tail. In most areas where they are common, the pelage coloration of individuals varies from red to black.
The body hair of S. vulgaris changes twice annually, while the tail hair changes only once. The winter coat covers more of the soles of the feet, has longer ear tufts, and is thicker than the spring/summer coat.
The commonest of all Eurasian squirrels; widespread throughout Scandinavia and Russia; lives and nests in the trees of deciduous and coniferous forests. They prefer to live in large, mature trees that can provide them with an abundant supply of food in the form of seeds or acorns. Trees chosen as nesting sites usually have hollowed out cavities or large holes in their trunks which can be used as nests. A high quality nest may be used for several years, but they always maintain several nests to which they can escape when being pursued by a predator.
The species regularly forages on coniferous seeds, beechnuts, acorns, and nuts. They have a specialized technique for opening nuts that utilizes the power of the lower incisors. With practice they are able to open a nut in just a few seconds. The dietary habits of these squirrels varies greatly according to the region in which they live and with the availability of different foods. When their regular dietary staples are not available, they will eat mushrooms and other fungi, the eggs found in birds’ nests, and garden flowers and vegetables. They have also been observed peeling the bark off conifers and licking the trees’ juices. Like most squirrels they store food supplies by burying them in the ground or hiding them in the bark of trees. Young squirrels learn what food sources to eat from their mothers.
The daily activities of the Eurasian Red Squirrel center around obtaining food. They are normally most active in the morning and late afternoon when they consume the most food. During spring and summer, they rest in their nests during the mid-day hours to avoid the extreme heat. During the winter, however, the mid-day rest may be very short or absent. While these squirrels spend most of their time in the trees, they do come to the ground when necessary to search for food or to bury food items such as acorns and nuts. While they don’t hibernate, they stay in their nests and rest when there are bad storms or high speed winds that would make traveling amongst the tree branches dangerous, coming out only they have to come out to find food. Females also stay in their nest for extended periods of time to care for their young.
This species, like other tree squirrels, is not found in groups, except when males gather within a female’s home range to compete for the opportunity to mate with her. They are not territorial and the home ranges of individuals may overlap considerably.