The grey squirrel – our most seen and controversial garden visitor

The latest results from the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, their yearly ‘what’s in your garden’ survey, show that nearly three-quarters (72%) of people in the UK see the grey squirrel in their gardens at least once a month and 91% had seen them at one time.  This makes them the most commonly seen mammal in this country, an interesting position for a species that has only lived here for the last 150 years at most.


The grey squirrel was introduced to the UK from the USA in the late 19th or early 20th century. They appear to have been introduced at several locations due to the Victorian’s like of them as an exotic creature.  They’re now widespread throughout England south of Cumbria and Wales, and are also common in local pockets in Scotland. Interestingly, they are still absent from the rest of mainland Europe except for small localised populations in Italy.

Grey squirrels are highly adaptable and love the sorts of mixed woodlands that occur in parks and gardens, which makes them a frequent urban inhabitant.  They eat seeds and plant material such as buds, shoots and flowers, but will also eat insects and sometimes birds’ eggs.  They are known as a scatter-hoarders, which sounds lovely and means that they have lots of small hoards of food scattered around the place, often of quite a temporary nature.  Another nice word associated with the squirrel is their home, which is known as a drey, and can be mistaken for a birds nest.  A dray will be up a tree but the difference is that you will see that it is made using a lot of leaves, not something that birds use much, and it is not built towards the ends of branches but right at the forks between the trunks of trees and the start of the branches.