Red Squirrel - Sciurus vulgaris
These beautiful bushy-tailed rodents are in decline in Ireland, but are still holding out in Wicklow for the time being. It is believed that the decline of this species is due to the spread of the larger Grey Squirrel, which was introduced to Ireland in 1911. However, all of the Red Squirrels found in Ireland derive from individuals introduced to Ireland systematically in the 19th century. Records from the Middle Ages suggest the species was in abundance in Ireland in enough numbers to support a fur export industry, but it is not known from the archaeological record.It is possible these pelts came from specimens kept entirely in captivity. Certainly, in the 17th century Ireland lost most of its woodland. Whatever the factors that caused the original extinction, there's no doubt that the same factors are still at work and causing the decline of the current population.
Red Squirrels are most commonly associated with oak forests and the collection and hording of acorns, but they will happily eat many types of nut, seed and fruit, and other food such as tree bark and fungi.Unlike the Grey Squirrel they will usually hibernate for a number of weeks in winter, depending on the severity of the weather.
They are extremely shy animals and anyone who sees one in Wicklow, or anywhere else in Ireland, should consider a sighting a privilege. Fortunately the mainland European population is thriving.
Photo courtesy of Johanna Lundquist.