Red and Grey Squirrels in Canada and Ireland
Many different types of animals live in the forests of Ontario, but size aside, you most certainly will come upon the smallest four-legged animals that call the forests of Ontario home. Those would be squirrels. This chipmunk is a member of the squirrel family, and this little guy lives in the trees around my parents’ home at Oxtongue Lake, in Ontario.
My dad, Marvin, has done a good job of training one wild chipmunk to come and get peanuts. Or perhaps the chipmunk would disagree thinking that it has done a good job of training my dad.
My dad keeps a handy supply of peanuts for his well-trained chipmunk.
My dad’s chipmunk is so well trained that it actually follows him around the yard. It even appears to keep track of his boots to make sure he hasn’t flown the coop.
The Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) is another type of squirrel found in Ontario. Red Squirrels live mainly in the northern forests while their bigger cousins, the more common Grey Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), are widespread in the towns and cities in the southern parts of the province. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, Red Squirrels are being wiped out by an infection of the parapoxvirus transmitted from Grey Squirrels. The Red Squirrels of Ontario, unlike their Irish and UK brothers, are healthy and energetic.
Although this Red squirrel decided to take advantage of a free lunch, they normally eat things like wild seeds, berries, insects, and even small mammals.
You will see in this video a baby Red Squirrel, which is only slightly larger than its smaller cousin, the chipmunk.
Red squirrels stand out in a world of green plants so it is easy for hawks, owls, wolves, and even bobcats to prey upon them. Even so, red squirrels are plentiful in Ontario.
When Bob and I made a trip to Ireland, we both knew that our chances of seeing a native Red Squirrel anywhere in Ireland, or the United Kingdom for that matter, were pretty slim. In the Wicklow Mountains, Red squirrels have been dying within 3 to 4 days of coming into contact with Grey squirrels and contracting the parapoxvirus.
The Grey Squirrel in both Ireland and the United Kingdom is not a native species. In fact, the Grey squirrels over there originated in North America. Back in the late 1900’s, during the Victorian era, North American Grey squirrels were deliberately released in Ireland and the United Kingdom. People back then thought they would look cute in their parks and gardens. As things turned out, North American Grey squirrels carried the parapoxvirus to the native Red squirrel population in those countries. They, themselves, are immune to it.
As Bob and I hiked through the forests of the Wicklow Mountains near Glendalough, we kept our cameras ready and watched to see if a Red squirrel might cross our paths.
After taking a short break in this rocky hollow, the luck of the Irish came to us, and a rarely-seen Red Squirrel actually darted out from behind a nearby tree.
The Red Squirrels in Ireland and the United Kingdom look somewhat like our Ontario Red Squirrels, but boy, do they have long ears!! Well, not really, but the tufts of hair on top of their ears make them look very long.
In this video, you get to see two different Red squirrels that we came across during our time in Ireland. The first is the Red squirrel that we saw in the Wicklow Mountains near Glendalough. The second is a Red Squirrel that lived in the forest beside Ashford Castle, near Cong on the Mayo/Galway border.
We were pleased to see any red squirrels in Ireland knowing how rare they are. Since our visit, we have read reports of Red squirrels having died from the virus in the Wicklow Mountains.
Red squirrels that contract the pox virus develop runny and puffy eyes and lesions on the skin. They often die within 3 to 4 days after contracting the virus from Grey squirrels. In many parts of England, to help protect the Red squirrels, Grey squirrels are now being controlled by the Forestry Commission using lethal means. Red squirrels are widespread in other parts of Europe, and there is talk of reintroducing them into the U.K.
Back in Canada, in my backyard, the Grey squirrels go about their business of foraging.
And the lineups are long as the Black and Grey squirrels compete to jump onto my bird feeders. In fact, one of them can jump over ten feet through the air and land safely at this feeding station. I put the suet out at strategic times to foil their insatiable appetites.
And this video fittingly shows the dance of the flying squirrel. It is simply unbelievable.
They certainly are crafty, and for now, the battle to defeat the squirrels continues. I am determined to outsmart them, and they undoubtedly outwit me.