During the day, you may see squirrels running just about everywhere. They run through yards, along power lines, and up trees. But, in the night, after they burn up all of that energy they need to catch some serious sleep. It begs the question, “Where do squirrels sleep?”
Where a squirrel sleeps and lives depends on the type of squirrel, the time of year and the region of the country they live in. In general, Gray and Red squirrels sleep in tree nests called dreys while ground squirrels sleep in underground burrows consisting of tunnels up to 30 feet in length.
Let’s take a look at some more details for the different types of squirrels and where they nap and snooze.
Ground Squirrels Sleep in Different Places Than Tree Squirrels
Most species of squirrels belong to one of two categories — tree squirrels and ground squirrels. The Eastern gray squirrel, red squirrel, and flying squirrel are tree squirrels. They sleep in nests or dens that they create or find in trees.
Ground squirrels stay on the ground. They are burrowing animals that dig holes in the ground to stay warm. Depending on the species of ground squirrel, they may even hibernate in their homes throughout the winter.
Tree Squirrels Often Build Large Nests in Trees
There are two types of tree squirrel nests (source). Squirrels may build a leaf nest, much the same as a typical bird’s nest, or they may find a hollowed-out cavity in a tree.
The leaf nests are called dreys. They are typically made from a collection of dried leaves, grass, and twigs. The squirrels build these dreys in the fork of a tall tree. They may build these nests 30 to 45 feet above the ground. In urban areas, you may find these nests in attics or the exterior of buildings.
The squirrel starts making its nest by chewing on branches. They typically start building their nests before fall when there are still plenty of leaves on the trees.
The finished product resembles a large, hollow sphere. The outer sphere contains more branches, small twigs and rough materials while the interior has grass, leaves, moss, and finer materials.
Squirrels do not always build their own nests. Sometimes they find an existing nest left by a previous squirrel. It is also possible for a squirrel to build more than one nest, using its second nest as a reserve nest in case something happens to the first one (like damage from thunderstorms).
Tree Squirrels May Establish A Cavity Nest For Sleeping
Along with leaf nests, tree squirrels sometimes find homes inside cavities created by woodpeckers. Sometimes these cavities are naturally formed. These homes are called dens or cavity nests. You can mimic this type of environment by putting up a squirrel nesting box.
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Dens offer several advantages compared to the leaf nests. With a den, the squirrel has more secure protection against the weather and predators. It is shielded from the snow, rain, and wind. It also gets to spend less time maintaining its cavity nest.
With leaf nests, squirrels need to constantly perform maintenance. They need to add new twigs, leaves, and debris to keep their leaf nests intact. A den does not require the same amount of work, allowing squirrels to spend more time relaxing and conserving energy, especially during the winter.
Tree squirrels may occasionally occupy a ground hole created by a ground squirrel or another critter. However, they only look for these holes as an emergency. For example, if their nests are destroyed during the winter, they may need to find new homes quickly to avoid freezing. The availability of prime nesting sites is one of the key criteria that helps a squirrel live a long life.
Baby Tree Squirrels Stay at Home
After birth, baby tree squirrels do not leave the den or nest. When they are first born, baby squirrels are blind and deaf, the same as many mammals. It takes several weeks for them to open their eyes.
Baby squirrels are weaned at about eight weeks. They then start eating solid foods and venturing away from the den or nest. By ten weeks, they can gather their own food. When they are ready to go off on their own, they leave home to establish their own sleeping spots.
Tree Squirrels May Share Nests in the Winter
Tree squirrels do not regularly share their nests. However, there are exceptions. For example, mother squirrels care for their young in their nests until the squirrels are weaned.
During the winter, female squirrels may share a nest with one or two other females. Male squirrels also exhibit this same behavior. However, male and female squirrels rarely share a nest.
One of the only times that you may find a male and female sharing a nest is during the mating season. This shared habitation may only last for one to three days.
Ground Squirrels Sleep in the Ground
Ground squirrels sleep in the ground. These animals like to burrow and often create underground burrows with a variety of tunnels and small holes. These tunnels may reach 15 to 30 feet in length and include a series of different tunnels and multiple entrances (source).
Some of the tunnels are used specifically for storing food while other tunnels may be used solely for sleeping. These holes are also typically clean. You will not find excavated earth near the site of the hole, unlike a gopher hole.
While tree squirrels prefer solitude and do not share nests, ground squirrels stick together. An underground shelter for a ground squirrel may house a colony of squirrels with a complex social structure, much the same as other rodents.
Ground Squirrels Hibernate During the Winter
Ground squirrels may sleep in their holes in the ground throughout the winter. Unlike tree squirrels, ground squirrels often hibernate during the colder months. In fact, there is one species of ground squirrel that can hibernate for up to eight months.
During hibernation, these squirrels rarely leave their homes. However, they do occasionally need to leave their holes in the ground to urinate. Unlike bears, the internal bodily processes do not entirely stop. They still need to urinate and may occasionally eat food.
So, Where Do Squirrels Sleep?
The simple answer is that tree squirrels sleep in trees and ground squirrels sleep in the ground. Tree squirrels also often live alone while ground squirrels often live in groups.
The tree squirrels tend to live in nests that are built from a collection of twigs, leaves, and other natural materials. The ground squirrels dig holes in the ground and create complex tunnel systems.
In the winter, the ground squirrels may hibernate in their holes. However, the tree squirrels remain active. They may go collect food that they have stored and perform maintenance on their nests.
All animals need sleep and squirrels are no different. If you come across one of their homes, you should respect their property and avoid destroying their sleeping place.