Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
The red squirrel is much smaller than either the fox or gray squirrel. Its overall body length, including tail, is about 13 inches. It weighs much less than a fox squirrel, about half a pound, on the average. The red squirrel is somewhat more colorful than either the fox or the gray squirrels. The tail is brownish red. The back and sides a lighter brownish red with gray highlights, the belly an off-white, and a prominent off-white ring around the eye.
Habitat preferred by the red squirrel is moist northern forests of coniferous trees such as spruce or fir. They will inhabit less dense, mixed forests of juniper, maple, basswood, and other deciduous trees but prefer continuous stands of trees unlike the fox squirrel who will inhabit open woodlands. In North Dakota, red squirrels can be found in the mixed forests of the Souris River, Turtle Mountains, and the maple-basswood forest of eastern North Dakota.
Red squirrels nest in tree cavities when they are available. Otherwise, nests are constructed on horizontal branches and are made of grass, bark, and twigs. This squirrel is highly territorial and will chase away gray, fox, and other red squirrels which intrude into its home range.
There are two breeding peaks for this squirrel. Adults may raise two litters per year in our region but may be limited to one further into the northern range. A gestation period is from 35 to 38 days followed by the birth of an average of 3-5 young. Young eat solid food by the age of 5-6 weeks.
Unlike the fox and gray squirrel who eat primarily larger nuts, the red squirrel utilizes the smaller seeds of pines, maples, basswoods, and elms. Rather than being buried singly, these seeds are cached in large quantities in tree hollows, stumps, logs, or similar areas.
The most well-known natural enemy of the red squirrel is the pine martin, which inhabits northern coniferous forests. It is believed this is the only natural predator that would have any effect on the population of red squirrels. Since pine martins are not commonly found in North Dakota, natural mortality, weather, habitat, and food availability are factors affecting overall populations. Even though the red squirrel is listed as a game species along with the other tree squirrels, and open to hunting in North Dakota, it is not sought after because of its small size.