It is common to see squirrels running around backyards and parks in the morning. They live in large numbers across pretty much the entire country and are one of the most well recognized wildlife creatures.
A very common question about this abundant wildlife species is, “Where Do Squirrels Live?”.
Most species of squirrels such as the Grey, Flying and Red squirrels live in trees utilizing either nests or dreys for shelter. Some species of squirrels, like the aptly named Ground Squirrels, live in underground burrows.
Where Do Tree Squirrels Live?
The type of squirrels that you see in parks are almost always tree squirrels with Grey squirrels being the most populous. Tree squirrels make their homes in trees using either nests or dreys for shelter.
A drey is a loose collection of branches, leaves and other insulating nesting materials that is constructed between supporting branches in a tree.
A nest is a cavity within the tree trunk. These cavities are initially excavated by woodpeckers and are used for one to two seasons before being abandoned and taken over by squirrels.
Why Do Squirrels Live in Trees?
The two primary reasons that squirrels live in trees are:
- Food Availability
Squirrels are prey animals that are hunted by ground based and aerial predators. Squirrels are the most vulnerable to predators when they are in open ground.
Having a nest that is high up in a tree provides protection against ground based predators such as foxes, coyotes and even your dog. And, as long as there are leaves on the tree the squirrels are somewhat camouflaged from aerial predators such as hawks.
Squirrels have a diverse diet that is provided in many forms by the trees which they inhabit.
Squirrels find the following items in trees to eat:
- Tree nuts
- New twig growth
- Baby birds and bird eggs
Trees not only provide excellent protection but also a bountiful food harvest for squirrels.
Where Do Squirrels Live in the US?
So now that we know about why squirrels live in tress and the type of structures squirrels live in, let’s take a closer look at where the different types of tree squirrels are most likely to be found.
There are two species of flying squirrel, Northern and Southern, with the Southern species being the most populous in the United States. The Southern Flying Squirrel can be found in nearly all of the Eastern states in both deciduous and coniferous forests.
An interesting fact about Flying squirrels is that they are nocturnal. This means that many people have these squirrels in their backyard and local parks but never see them!
American Red squirrels can be found almost anywhere in the country that has coniferous forests. Red squirrels primarily eat the nuts found in pine cones and other evergreens, so much so that their common nickname is “Pine Squirrel”.
Grey squirrels are extremely common in the Eastern half of the United States and are the most populous squirrels in that part of the country. The population starts thinning out just past the Mississippi River.
Grey squirrels thrive in mature mixed forests with a thick canopy. However, these intelligent creatures are highly adaptable and can easily find ways to make themselves at home in your backyard and local parks.
Black squirrels are grey squirrels with a slight genetic mutation. As such, any place where you can find grey squirrels is a potential location for black squirrels as well.
There are several places with notable concentrations of black squirrels including Virginia, Ohio, Michigan. Typically these are areas where black squirrels were artificially introduced such as the population in Battle Creek, Michigan introduced by the Kellogg family.
Where Do Squirrels Live in the City
City squirrels live in the same places as their forest dwelling counterparts, in trees. City squirrels will nest in the trees found in parks, along roadways and in various Green Spaces.
If the squirrels run short of tree nesting opportunities they will create nests in any available elevated structure that they think affords them a level of protection from predators. As an example, here is a video showing a squirrel building a nest on a fourth story fire escape.
Where Do Squirrels Live in the Winter?
In the wintertime squirrels live in the exact same nests and dens that the use in summer months. Multiple squirrels will share the same nest during winter to share body warmth.
Additionally, the squirrels will stay in the nests for days at a time to conserve energy and shared body heat. These are a couple ways that squirrels make it through winter without hibernating.
Do Squirrels Live Underground?
There are a few species of squirrels, mainly found in the Western United States, that live in underground burrows. These squirrels are aptly named “Ground Squirrels” and only slightly resemble their tree squirrel cousins in the East.
Ground squirrels are fascinating animals (they fight and beat rattlesnakes!) and I encourage you to learn more about them by checking out this article on Five Incredible Ground Squirrel Facts.