Squirrel study reveals surprising facts about the furry nut eaters and their relationship to humans

Researchers found that food obtained from people may increase survival in the population, especially when natural food is in short supply in winter and spring. PAP/Abaca

Warsaw’s Royal Łazienki Park has the highest density of red squirrels in the whole of the Mazowieckie province - and humans could be the reason, according to researchers from the Warsaw University of Life Science.

Following a mass counting exercise, initial results suggest that there are around 200 of the furry nut eaters running around the park. 

According to the Royal Łazienki website, one of the reasons for the high population density may be frequent feeding by people. 

Food obtained from people may increase survival in the population, especially when natural food is in short supply in winter and spring.

The scientists are particularly interested in how Łazienki’s squirrels differ to those that don’t have any contact with people. 

According to Jakub Pawlak from Royal Łazienki: “In nature, the rhythm of a squirrel’s day is regulated by the sun. 

According to Jakub Pawlak from Royal Łazienki the squirrels are most active when there are a lot of visitors and are not afraid of people. PAP/Abaca

“However, we have noticed that squirrels in the park are most active when there are a lot of visitors. They are exceptionally bold and not afraid of people. 

“This is no wonder, because people like to feed them. It means that the animals lose their natural instinct to look for food, although this is not entirely a negative phenomenon.”

During the research, the scientists served the squirrels a range of treats, and it turned out that they like walnuts the most, but in the wild they prefer pine seeds. 

“Interestingly, they preferred nuts in their shell, and not those more convenient to eat, already peeled,” said Pawlak.

The squirrels outsmart crows by pretending to dig a hole and bury its nuts, but it will actually take the food elsewhere.PAP/Abaca

“We also observed that our squirrels use decoys. There are a lot of crows and rooks in Łazienki and they are much less likely to receive food from visitors than our delightful red furry squirrels. 

“The birds watch from above where a squirrel buries its nuts then it steals them. 

“Unless, though, the squirrel outsmarts the bird. It will pretend to dig a hole and bury its nuts, but it will actually take the food elsewhere. That's how our ones do it,” revealed Pawlak.