Grey Squirrels

Male and female grey squirrels are very similar.

Size –  body length 24-28.5cm , a tail nearly as long again and a weight 400-650g

Colour –  has a silver-grey coat, with a brownish face and feet, and pale underside, sometimes looks reddish

Ears – unlike red squirrels, they never ear tufts

 

Tail – each individual tail hair has bands of different colour giving the tail a halo effect

The slides below all show Grey Squirrels.

Typical red squirrel

Typical red squirrel

  • Russet coloured fur but can vary with some appearing very grey or brown
  • Much smaller than the grey squirrel
  • Have small ear tufts that develop into large ear tufts during winter (these are moulted during the summer)
  • Tail hairs are a uniform colour
  • Arboreal ie spend most of their time up in the trees

Typical Grey squirrel

Grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) were introduced from America into large estates in the 1870s and have since spread very successfully.

  • Grey fur, but can have red fur down their backs and on their feet
  • Much larger than our native red squirrel
  • No ear tufts
  • Tail hairs have bands of different colours causing ‘halo’ effect
  • Spend three-quarters of their day foraging on the forest floor

Is it a red or a grey?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell and experienced volunteers checking cameras sometimes can’t decide if the photo is taken in poor light. Usually the best way to tell is to look at their tails. Each individual hair on a grey squirrel’s tail is made up of bands of colour, with each one having a white tip. Together these white tips combine to create a distinctive white ‘halo’ effect around the grey’s tail which is visible even in poor light. Reds do not have this ‘halo’.

All the photos in the slideshow were taken in Clocaenog forest by our trail cameras. In good light it is easy to distinguish reds and greys. In poor light, especially when the camera switches to black and white, it can be difficult.

Do the ID quiz to see if you can correctly identify reds and greys.

Do the ID Quiz

  1. Grey – grey coat, no ear tufts, halo effect on tail
  2. Red – russet coat, ear tufts, tail all one colour
  3. Grey – grey coat, no ear tufts, white tips on tail hairs visible. Also quite a large animal
  4. Grey – grey coat, no ear tufts, halo effect on tail
  5. Red –  ear tufts, no halo effect on tail
  6. Grey – grey coat, no ear tufts, halo effect on tail
  7. Red –   no halo effect on tail
  8. Grey – no ear tufts, halo effect on tail. Also quite a large animal
  9. Red –  ear tufts, no halo effect on tail
  10. Red –  not much to go on but there is no halo effect on tail so probably a red

Photos taken by the trail cameras are often of poor quality but additional information can help us with identificaton. Sometimes we have a series of photos of the same animal taken a few seconds apart and different views can help. The time of year can be useful in helping us decide whether it’s an adult red or a young grey or whether ear tufts are likely in reds.

Grey Squirrels and the Law

The grey squirrel is regarded as an invasive non-native species following its inclusion under Schedule 9 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (WCA). Grey squirrels are also listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) international list of 100 worst invasive non-native species. This highlights the damage that grey squirrels cause to our native flora and fauna; a problem severe enough to be recognised at a level of global significance. As such, the grey squirrel is regarded as a pest species and is afforded no protection under UK law.  Under Schedule 9 of the WCA, it is illegal to release a grey squirrel into the wild, or allow one to escape.

This means if you trap one, you are obliged to humanely dispatch it. You must not let it go as this act would be illegal. Anyone who carries out, or knowingly causes or permits any of the above acts to occur could be committing an offence.

Grey squirrel control

CRST works in partnership Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and other surrounding landowners to control grey squirrel numbers in and around Clocaenog Forest. CRST members/volunteers who carry out this important work have received appropriate training to safely do this.

CRST’s main aim is to take action to protect red squirrels against the advance of grey squirrels in and around the forest. Control activities mainly occur in areas of the forest where the two species are likely to encounter one another, or in areas which grey squirrels may use as corridors to reach forest locations still inhabited by red squirrels.

These activities are organised in partnership and with agreement of other organisations and individuals where necessary. Grey squirrel control is only carried out to help conserve the red squirrel population in Clocaenog Forest. Control methods are undertaken in an effective and humane way and in compliance with legal requirements and good practice guidance.

We do not ‘blame’ grey squirrels for the impact they are having on the reds – it was people who brought the species over from America and introduced it into the UK. However, CRST does believe that planned action must be taken to protect our iconic and endangered red squirrels.

CRST recognises the extreme threat posed to red squirrels by the advance of grey squirrels. As a local voluntary group we are committed to playing our part in furthering red squirrel conservation. Our efforts also mirror what is going on in other key focal sites in Wales as well as wider UK strategic approaches to defending red squirrel populations and their habitats.

Nationally, red squirrels are a high conservation priority and CRST volunteers / members want to see Clocaenog Forest restored to its former status as a stronghold for red squirrels in Wales.

Frequently Asked Questions

Red and grey squirrels are two different species. They do not breed with each other. Grey squirrels often have some reddish brown fur.

The most crucial reason that red and grey squirrels cannot coexist is that grey squirrels carry a virus known as Squirrelpox or Squirrel parapoxvirus (SQPV). Grey squirrels have immunity to the virus but can easily spread it to reds.

In addition, the much larger grey squirrel out competes the red squirrel for food.

Research is being done into a fertility control for grey squirrels. You can read more on the Squirrel Accord website.