The Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), Fig. 21, belongs to the order Rodentia and family Sciuridae, and is arboreal in habits, typical of frolicsomeness and sport, the bushy tail assisting in its aerial flights. The colour of the fur is usually a rich ruddy brown on the upper parts, this colour merging into reddish or greyish white on the under portion of the body. The nest and dwelling-place consists of a spherical structure formed of intertwined woody fibres, leaves and moss, and is generally placed in the fork of a bough, and in an inaccessible situation so far as other animals are concerned. One pair generally occupy the same tree and nest for a lengthy period. From three to four young are produced at a birth, usually in June, the young remaining in the parent nest until the following spring.

The Squirrel.

Fig. 21. - The Squirrel.

The feeding propensities of squirrels are displayed in woods, parks, plantations and pleasure-grounds by their devouring the buds, chiefly flowering, of Scots pine, silver fir, and spruce trees, biting the young shoots of those trees not arrived at flowering-bud stage just below the terminal buds, and in the case of stiff branched trees devouring the buds in situ. The squirrels prefer the male flower-buds to the female, consequently where these animals abound coniferous woods yield but small quantities of seed. In addition to devouring the flowering-buds of various trees owing to the large amount of protein which they contain, the squirrels evince delight of dainty morsels by biting off the bark in May, June and July of young broad-leaved trees of from fifteen to thirty years of age, the barking being usually performed in the crown, and most frequently in dry, hot seasons. Aspen, beech, hornbeam, horse-chestnut, and willow suffer most among the broad-leaved species, and among conifers, larch and pine.

This dietary is varied with cockchafer grubs, pupae of sawflies and other insects, but directly cob nuts and filberts are fairly kernelled, squirrels forget everything else, though occasionally having no scruples in respect of ripening apricots, nectarines, peaches and plums, carrying them off to feed upon in copses at leisure. Sweet chestnuts are dainties the squirrel loves, and stores in dry places purposely dug in the ground and carefully covered over with earth. Hazel-nuts and acorns are also stored in a similar way, likewise beechnuts, and for quality of preservation nothing can equal these earthpits. These stores are for use in late winter or when appetite prompts and weather permits. It not only devours large quantities of these on and off the trees, but feeds freely on the seeds of conifers, obtaining them by pulling the cones to pieces. Not content with its own storing, the squirrel scrapes up the germinating nuts or seeds sown in nurseries near its dwelling-places, and not least of its antics is guiltiness of attacking the young of useful species of birds, which, more effectively than itself, would otherwise help to keep down injurious insects.