If you have looked out in the yard and seen squirrels chasing each other, they may not be fighting or playing. The chase may be part of the courtship process.
Squirrels chase each other for a variety of reasons. Young squirrels chase each other for fun while older squirrels chase each other to assert dominance in the mating process. When a squirrel population gets too crowded then they will chase each other to protect the limited food supply.
The Chase Is Part of the Mating Process
There are two types of chases involved in the squirrel mating process.
The first is the competition between male squirrels to assert dominance. This can involve chasing followed by aggressive nipping and fighting when the males catch each other. Once one male has emerged as the dominant squirrel the second chase begins.
When a dominant male emerges, the female squirrel begins the mating chase.
The female squirrel runs off, enticing the dominant male squirrel to follow her. This pursuit is usually a slow paced affair as the male squirrel is checking the scent of the female to determine when she is in heat. This is a critical activity as a female squirrel is typically in estrus for only a few hours.
They may follow each other through yards and around tree trunks before the male finally catches the female. When the pursuit ends, the squirrels copulate.
That is the standard mating process for squirrels. However, squirrels do not always follow the normal path. In some cases, a non-dominant male squirrel may lay in waiting in the female’s territory. When the dominant male catches the female and begins mating, the hiding squirrel may attack the dominant squirrel and try to get him to run away.
You will see this type of activity from squirrels in the late winter/early spring or late summer which is typically when squirrels have babies.
Squirrels Like to Protect Their Territory
Most squirrels are territorial animals. When too many squirrels are in an area, young squirrels must travel further away to establish their nests. The older, more dominant males and females protect their territory and their food sources from other squirrels.
One method of protecting their territory is to chase the other squirrels away. They nip and pursue until the squirrel flees their territory. A territorial dispute can be identified by when the squirrels are going after each other in a spiraling up and down pattern on a tree.
Flying squirrels and red squirrels tend to be the most territorial squirrel species. The common gray squirrel is less territorial. However, they may still go after other squirrels to exert dominance.
Young Squirrels Like to Chase Each Other
Along with exerting dominance, mating, and protecting their territory, some squirrels simply like to play. Young squirrels often chase each other as a form of play fighting, much the same as other species such as dogs or cats.
Chasing is a great way for young squirrels to develop their coordination and strength. These frolics rarely result in aggressive behavior. For example, when one squirrel catches the other, they are not likely to seriously nip at each other.
Squirrels Chase Each Other for Various Reasons
The bottom line is that squirrels chase each other for several different reasons. If you see adult squirrels chasing each other, there is a good chance that the chase is related to mating or dominance.
If you see a couple of younger squirrels chasing each other, they are most likely playing. These are all normal behaviors and not a sign that the squirrels are out of food or infected with rabies.
When squirrels chase each other, they are simply engaging in their normal habits.