Red Squirrels have many set of whiskers and a few sets of ‘vibrissae’ which are sets of thick stiff hairs. The whiskers are on the head, above and below the eyes, on the nose and under the chin. Vibrissae are on the base of the tail and around the feet. Whiskers and vibrissae are sensitive to touch which help the Red Squirrel to find its way in a dark drey or den. They also stop the Red Squirrel bumping into things on a dark windy night when it is high up in the tree tops.
Red Squirrels eat a variety of food such as nuts, berries, bark, seeds, mushrooms, insects and birds’ eggs. Their favourite food is pine seeds found in pine cones. Red Squirrels store (cache) any excess food they find. They sometimes bury the food two or three centimetres under the ground in preparation for the long winter months when food is scarce. Red Squirrels also cache their food in small burrows or in tree hollows. A cache usually contains between one and four items.
Red Squirrels test beechnuts, hazelnuts and sweet chestnuts to see if they are rotten. To do this Red Squirrels weigh the nuts in their hands and shake them. If the nut rattles, the kernel is more likely to be small and shrivelled and not worth eating. Red Squirrels also eat acorns, but they don’t find them easy to digest.
When a Red Squirrel carries a nut in its mouth, the glands in its cheeks leave a particular scent on the nut. This scent helps the Red Squirrel to find any nuts it has buried.