How Do Squirrels Nest? Where, When, How and Why, Squirrel Drey Facts


Squirrels are cute little creatures that never fail to entertain people in their back yards. They hop and jump around looking cute thanks to their frizzy tails and cute button-shaped eyes. Their acrobatics and climbing ability are amazing. They’re also very intelligent – more intelligent than your average creature, learning, solving problems and they can even be trained to feed straight out of people’s hands.

Do Squirrels live In nests? What do Squirrel Nests Look like? You may have been forgiven for wondering these things as you see them adeptly moving among the trees. Well, let’s answer that question for you! Here’s the quick take away answer first…

How do squirrels nest? Squirrels usually nest about 20′ high, in the fork of tree branches, a cavity in tree trunks or in an abandoned birds nest such as Woodpecker. Also called ‘dreys’ they’ll often have 2 or 3 nests. They nest alone but will build up the primary nest prior to the mating season, and to share over winter.

Let’s help you get a greater understanding of Squirrel nesting habitat and habits.

Types of Squirrel Nests

There are ground squirrels and tree squirrels, ground squirrels will burrow a hole in the ground for nesting in.

Essentially for tree squirrels like the red and the gray squirrels, there are two different types of squirrel nests, mostly found in trees and quite probably trees surrounding your backyard: Tree cavity dens or leaf nests, are often built near humans as a ready food source, but they’re equally at home in the wild.

  • Leaf Nests – These nested constructions are usually at minimum 20 feet up in a tree. Leaf nests are also usually tucked in the fork of a major tree branch, which also helps to add stability and protection against the elements. They differ from birds nests because they’re noticeably more sizeable than a typical bird nest.
  • Tree Cavity Den – These are often nesting areas initially created by a woodpecker, or perhaps a split in tree bark. Abandoned nest areas are often later claimed by squirrels. Other tree cavity dens are created through the natural processes that can often hollow out an aged tree. Homes like these are favorites for squirrels because they provide the very best protection from rain, wind, and snow that nature can provide.
squirrel nest in tree trunk cavity
squirrel nest in tree trunk cavity

How a Squirrel Makes a Leaf Nest

Leaf nests are constructed from various flora and fauna from the woods, such as twigs, leaves, moss and other natural materials. To begin with, twigs are loosely woven together to make up a stable floor of the nest. Then next, squirrels create even more stability by tightly packing damp leaves and moss on top of and around the sides of the twig platform to reinforce the structure.

Next, a pretty clever spherical shaped frame is woven around the base, this forms the outer shell of the nest. The final touches include packing it even more tightly with moss, leaves, twigs and other debris and sometimes even paper or cardboard scraps (in urban areas) to build up the outer shell of the new home.

This creates a large, mostly enclosed, dry, warm and protective casing around the squirrels and their brood.

The inner cavity of a squirrels nest is usually about eight inches in diameter and lined with further material, these can comprise of shredded pieces of bark, dry grasses, and dry leaves.

However, some squirrel species, including Gray Squirrels, often have nests that are much larger. Some nest cavities can span as much as 2 feet in overall width!

What a Squirrel’s Drey or Nest looks like

What Does a Squirrels drey or nest look like
Squirrels drey or nest

image source: creative commons

A Squirrel’s Additional Nests

Squirrels are constantly on the move, moving around between various bird feeders, and even between numerous back yards.

Because of this, it’s quite common for squirrels to build second and even third nests located near their main primary home, the distances can vary.

These second and third squirrel nests are often used for emergency purposes, to hide from any nearby predators, or to store extra food, or even as a temporary rest stop throughout a day’s activity. They can also be used if a nest is overrun with an insect infestation.

You can get nests for squirrels too if you particularly wanted to give them a home. Squirrels can be a pain when they’re after your birdseed, but they can also be the cutest and funniest things in your back yard – if you ever get the chance to watch them.

You can get some really ornate squirrel nests on Amazon and other local places. Here’s a Squirrel nest on Amazon that has everything they’ll ever need!

There are enough species in danger or have left us already, so it’s always a good idea to aid those that are left – however much of a naughty nuisance they may sometimes be!

Timeline of a Squirrels Nest

Squirrels usually nest solo. However, during the very height of the mating season, which usually starts at the beginning of the calendar year, both male and female squirrels will increase the workload on a nest for the purpose of mating. They may also share a nest which can help conserve body heat during the coldest stage of the winter weather onslaught.

Squirrels do not hibernate, and will regularly venture out to their food stores for supplies! Once spring arrives, female squirrels turn their attention to nursing and raising their new litter. Younger squirrels begin to venture outside of the nest when they reach around six weeks old.

After the mother squirrel teaches her brood the essential rules of survival, and after lots of running around acquiring new climbing and agility skills, most young squirrels will leave to venture away from the nest for good around the 10 to 12 weeks of age mark.

Some get extensions to their training period where required and will stay with Mom until the second litter arrives – often into late summer, usually in August.

Squirrel nest-building activity is most noticeable between around June to July. That’s when mother squirrels are teaching their spring-born young how to build nests. But actually, there are much busier periods of a squirrels day.

The real squirrel nest construction boom happens during the fall. While many wild birds and animals are migrating to avoid the colder winter months, squirrels are busy collecting material and assembling strong, secure nests that can make it through a blustery winter.

If you have both red and gray squirrels where you live, then you’ll notice red squirrels tend to spend much more of their time in trees than gray squirrels, springtime is a good time to spot them, just after winter and before the trees develop too many leaves that means the canopy hides any movements. At this point, they tend to leave their winter hideouts and venture out for food to build back up their depleted energy levels AND to feed the kittens they’ve had during the first few weeks of spring.

You’ll see young babies with bushy tales around mid to late April, they’ll start to venture out of the drey and a month or so later will leave to build their own homes, often not far away.

Around May, adult squirrels will be looking to breed for a second time, so you may see them springing around the place more often looking for a suitable mate – these kittens will be born around July and August.

How Many Squirrels Live in a Squirrel Nest?

Squirrels will mostly nest alone. However, there are exceptions

  1. During harsh winter seasons, Squirrels will huddle and best together for warmth.
  2. During the mating season when they’re rearing young, the male may still be around to assist the female
two squirrels nesting

Squirrel Nests (Dreys) Could Be Confused With Bird Nests

It’s often hard to tell from looking up into a tree if the nest you’re looking at belongs to a bird or a squirrel, often they can be the same football type size. Add to this that sometimes Squirrels will build their nests inside abandoned birds nests, often Magpies or Rooks nests are large enough. More confusingly, Birds have also been known to build their nests inside older Squirrels dreys. Over different seasons, nests may end up being used for different purposes.

One way to tell (if you can get close enough) is to see if there are leaves woven into the nest s birds tend not to use leaves. Birds nest also tend to be nearer to the top of a tree and often further out along the branches. Due more to the creature’s weight.

A further clue might be what lies under the nest. Check the floor around the base. If you discover chewed pine cones and small fairly fresh scratch marks on the base of the tree, that’s a sure sign it’s being used a squirrels drey. a ‘chuk, chuk’ing,’ sound is also a good sign as you’re probably hearing Red or Gray Squirrels nearby.

Of course, finding a good vantage point nearby and simply watching out for any visitors to the nest is the best way of knowing for sure. I couldn’t think of a better reason to sit quietly for a while.

Do Squirrels Come Back to the Same Nest?

It’s not unusual for squirrels to return to the same nest, if they’re familiar with taking previous woodpecker nests then there’s no reason why they would not choose another uninhabited nest.

Also, it may well be possible for Squirrels to return to the same nest they had previously, this could go for all other secondary and tertiary nests they have too.

Why Do Squirrels Build Nests so High in Trees?

Most squirrel nests are built high up for a reason, the main reason being the safety of height, most ground predators will be unable (or unwilling) to attempt to gain access to a Squirrels nest if it’s held high up in the branches. For this same reason, squirrels will rarely remain at floor level for long, preferring some form of height away from potential ground predators.

Secondly, there is an obvious height advantage to having a nest high up. The advantage of being able to mark out surrounding prey, predators as well as other potential squirrel activity.

How Do Squirrel Nests Stay Together?

As mentioned previously squirrels nests are a tightly woven mesh of branches, moss, leaves, and other debris and material found from their surroundings. The branches, leaves, and moss all fuse together to form a rigid structure that in most cases can withstand most winter and other elements.

Squirrel Nests Near You

Take the time to look around the area you live in. See how many squirrel nests you can see around your yard? or in the nearest woodland or park. Did you notice them before you read this article? Perhaps now you’ll see them more commonly around the neighborhood!

Squirrels tend to be most active either early in the morning or late into the afternoon. If you live within a red squirrel area, then visit your local woods with some binoculars and take a look around and you may get to see the whole family.

Removing a squirrels drey

If you have a squirrel’s drey or nest on your property that you need to remove, then do not try to remove the nest yourself. When disturbed squirrels will attempt to defend themselves.

They can bite and scratch (and carry diseases which can be bacterial in nature). This is especially the case in the mating season with squirrel young around. Always ask a professional to carry out the task. But for the most part, unless they are causing a particular nuisance, then Squirrels are largely harmless and can be fascinating to observe.

Resources

If you want to learn more, then I’d recommend this book called ‘The Wonderful World of Squirrels‘ for much more insight into Squirrel life!

So Finally

I hope this has helped answer some of those quirky questions you can sometimes get regarding the nesting habits of Squirrels. Let me know any experience or unusual circumstances you might find regarding squirrels in your back yard. Tell me what you’ve spotted!

I’m going to leave you with this short YouTube video of an actual Squirrel in a squirrels nest, so cute!

Michael

A Certified Ecologist and an Entomologist, Michael has been interested in all aspects of Nature for many years. It's only now he's decided, along with his partner Fran, to begin documenting what he knows.

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