In the British Isles there are two species of squirrel, the Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) and the Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis).
The Red Squirrel is the native species and now restricted to parts of northern England, including parts of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Northumberland, Scotland, Anglesey and the Isle of Wight, though there are programmes to try to expand their range. Their original range has contracted owing to a disease that is carried by the non-native Grey Squirrel.
The Grey Squirrel was introduced from North America in the 19th century and is larger than our Red Squirrel. As mentioned already, they carry squirrel pox, which is usually fatal for Red Squirrels. They are extremely adaptable and have moved quickly into gardens, where they can often find plentiful foods that are intended for birds.
Both species will feed on fungi, fruits and nuts but also birds' eggs and nestlings, particularly when other foods are scarce.
When a Grey Squirrel first arrived in our garden it was a moment of great joy and entertainment, but they soon became a nuisance - eating everything in their sight, including a plastic bird feeder! They dig up the lawn to bury nuts and can quickly work their way through a bed of tulips, eating the bulbs as they go along.
The seed feeders made from polycarbonate and galvanised steel have so far proven to be squirrel resistant to their gnawing, but these do not stop them eating the food.
To stop them eating the food, you can fit baffles to bird table poles and cages around the feeders. An alternative to fitting the baffles is to grease the pole, but this is not always successful and also poses a risk to the birds' feathers.
More sophisticated feeders are available that sense something heavier than a bird is hanging on the feeder and either collapse the perches or spin around, throwing the squirrel off.
There are also chilli pepper based powders that you can add to the bird food. The squirrels, being mammals, find the chilli pepper too "hot" and leave the food, but birds do not mind it because their tongues are insensitive to the pepper.
Nest boxes made from wood may have a metal plate fitted around the hole, which prevents the squirrels from gnawing at the hole to enlarge it in order to gain access to the eggs and nestlings that may be inside.
Finally, you may prefer to provide the squirrels with their own feeders, filling them with peanuts, hazelnuts or acorns.
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