Squirrel Habitats

Where do squirrels live and sleep?

Considering there are over 200 species of squirrel around the world, it’s safe to assume nearly every person on earth has encountered one throughout their lifetime. Since there are squirrels living across the entire globe, one could also expect that they have adapted to a wide variety of climates, environments, and predators. Where squirrels live, as well as the dangers they face, shape the dwellings they choose to occupy. All squirrels are categorized into three types, including: flying squirrel, ground squirrel, and tree squirrel. While they are still squirrels, consuming similar diets, they face different threats and utilize different types of homes. 

In order to remain safe from beasts of prey, tree squirrels and flying squirrels have one thing in common: they both utilize trees. Flying squirrels typically maintain residence within tree cavities during the day, sometimes with multiple tree squirrels at once. However, they have also been known to occupy old birds nests, nesting boxes, and more.

Flying squirrels

Flying squirrels also do not hibernate and spend the colder months huddling together for warmth, spending less time outside of their hollow. When they are ready to go out in search of seeds or to hunt for bugs, a flying squirrel will leap from a tree and glide to the ground, up to a distance around 40 feet – sometimes further.

Ground squirrels

Ground squirrels, including well-known types such as prairie dogs and chipmunks, live in very different locations compared to other types. Some kinds of ground squirrels occupy pastures and parks, while others enjoy hot and dry outcrops, fields, and hillsides. Regardless of the climate, ground squirrels still have one thing in common with one another, they utilize the burrow systems of their ancestors. During the day, when they go in search of food, they will venture above ground. However, when they need to avoid danger, raise babies, and sleep, they hide within a network of underground tunnels. By living in colonies, ground squirrels help one another, with a huge underground home consisting of complex tunnel systems, measuring between 5′ to 28′ long, and going down as far as 4′ below the surface.

Tree squirrels

Tree squirrels typically maintain a nest comprised of woven twigs, leaves, and grass – commonly referred to as a drey. Because most of the predators tree squirrels face live on the ground, a drey may be found situated between two tree branches, or next to a trunk, toward the top of any given tree. While they are generally known to occupy both deciduous and coniferous forests, they also enjoy residential locations, such as garages, lofts, and even attics. Here they will become increasingly creative with nesting material options in order to fill out their home, often exploiting fiberglass insulation, paper, cotton, and more. In the colder months, because they don’t hibernate, tree squirrels will spend more time within their nests. While they typically live alone and raise their young alone, they have been known to live in a group in cold weather, known as a scurry.

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Aside from most ground squirrels, tree and flying squirrels alike are known to occupy various nesting locations during the entirety of their lifespan. Safety is always a top priority with every type of squirrel, who face foxes, cats, hawks, etc., on a daily basis. Some will go as far as to maintain two nests, either as a decoy, or as an escape when one drey is discovered by a predator or competing squirrel. Should their nest become infested with pests, like mites or fleas, squirrels will abandon it in favor of a new hollow. Adults are also quick to build new nests, spending little more than a day constructing a fresh drey as they see fit.

While they do not commonly change nesting locations due to changing seasons, and maintain solitary lifestyles, tree and flying squirrels will make adjustments to accommodate mating season. Female squirrels are capable of mating twice per year, and raise their young alone. Males, on the other hand, mate at any time of year, as much as needed, and take on zero responsibility in raising any resulting squirrel pups. Often times there is so much competition surrounding mating season, female squirrels will be pursued by more than one male. Pregnancy lasts for six weeks, after which the young will spend the next 16 weeks preparing to leave the nest. Once they are ready, they will leave the safety of their mother’s drey in search of their own nesting locations.

Ground squirrels, on the other hand, face different obstacles in regard to health and home. Without the luxury of a height advantage, the home of a ground squirrel is easily accessible by countless predators. The long-tailed weasel commonly raids ground squirrel burrows in search of young, killing adult squirrels as they please. Badgers enjoy digging out burrows, killing up to half of adult occupants in the winter, in addition to a quarter of all springtime litters. Snakes are also capable of slithering effortlessly through any given tunnel entrance. While reptiles may seek out juvenile ground squirrels, adults are less likely to die from snake venom – thanks to a protein present in their blood. Adult prairie dogs, however, have adapted to predators such as snakes, through various, physical attacks.

Because it is so common to find squirrel nests around residential areas and neighborhoods, typically within a home’s easily penetrated features, it can be difficult to keep these rodents at bay. As a homeowner, in order to properly repel squirrels, you must ensure that any bird feeders are not acting as a lure. Safeguard your hanging bird feeders, and protect birdseed from rodent infiltration, by utilizing squirrel-proof feeders, or bird feeder attachments. A decent, squirrel-proof bird feeder will stop pests from becoming a problem for your favorite birds, so you can enjoy more of your feathered friends for years to come.

James T. Hume
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