Squirrels are prolific, with over 200 species. They range in size from the African Pygmy Squirrel, which averages a mere five inches (thirteen centimetres), to an astonishing three feet (nearly a metre) for the Indian giant squirrel. The only notable gap in their habitat is Australia.
Squirrels have large, well-developed front teeth that need to constantly be worn down as they do not stop growing. While some species of squirrel live on the ground inhabiting burrows or tunnel systems where they can hibernate through the winter, most squirrels live in trees, and these are the most commonly recognised examples, often seen running up the trunks of trees or jumping between branches.
Ground based squirrels are more vulnerable than their tree based cousins, and as a result have been observed operating in groups, warning one another of danger via a whistled warning. They eat seeds, plants, leaves, caterpillars and other small insects.
Tree squirrels, on the other hand, eat nuts, acorns, berries, bark, eggs, even baby birds, and will descend to the ground to forage if necessary. They are well adapted to climbing, and are common everywhere from city parks to rural woodland.
Some squirrels have adapted a unique method of travel, the so called'flying' squirrels. These squirrels eat fruit and nuts, small insects and baby birds and usually live in nests and holes high in trees. They do not fly like birds, but instead glide, utilising large flaps of skin between their limbs and bodies to stay airborne for up to 150 feet (almost 50 metres).
Squirrels are born blind, and so are totally dependent on their mothers for two to three months, depending on species. Squirrels are prolific reproducers, birthing two to eight offspring several times a year. This leads to robust populations.
However, the grey squirrel can be a pest, both in gardens and the countryside. There are several ways to dissuade them from visiting. Greasing the pole of a bird feeder with Vaseline is a good trick. You can also fit a cone, with the opening facing down, or a biscuit tin, to the pole. This acts as a barrier that the squirrel cannot cross. If the feeder hangs instead of standing, sheathing the line in hose pipe, or hanging plastic bottles either side of the feeder can also work.
There are commercially available feeders that use spring-loaded covers to cover the food, allowing birds to feed but preventing squirrels from doing so. But remember, all of these solutions will only work if the squirrel can't reach the feeder by jumping.
A simpler, and less mechanical deterrent involves dusting the bird food with chilli powder, the hotter the better. This will not bother the birds, who will continue to feed, but the squirrels cannot abide the taste and will avoid the food. Just be careful when handling the treated bird food! It is worth remembering that feeders enclosed in cages are often squirrel-resistant, but not squirrel proof.
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