Wildlife Informer is reader-supported. When you click and buy we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

How Do Squirrels Survive in the Winter (6 Ways)

How do squirrels survive the winter? The winter causes changes in how many animals act, from leading bears to hibernate to causing wood frogs to bury themselves and freeze. Squirrels are one such animal you will notice behaving in other ways. This happens as the small mammals prepare for the harshest season of the year.

How Do Squirrels Survive in the Winter

Squirrels are found in multiple regions and have adapted to survive different kinds of weather, including the cold winter months. These small animals can survive the freezing temperatures and snow.

Mammals like this have adapted to survive in more than one way. Unlike other mammal species, these small animals will not hibernate throughout the entire season, but you can expect them to sleep more. To survive cold winters squirrels will do things like burrowing, bulking up and hoarding food, and longer sleeping times.

Squirrels and Cold Weather

Different types of squirrels may behave differently when cold weather starts depending on the region they live in, but these mammals will get ready for the changing season in many of the same ways. Preparing in the months and weeks that come before is key to squirrels being able to survive until spring comes around again.

Squirrels will start getting ready for the winter in the fall season. They will go through multiple steps to get ready, and some of their activities are considered a nuisance in neighborhoods.

Certain breeds of squirrels may spend most of the winter hibernating, while others just sleep longer during the day. Even when hibernating, squirrels may get up to seek out food they have stocked away.

1. Burrowing

One of the main ways that squirrels are able to survive the winter is by burrowing for shelter. They can do this in multiple different places, and many of them turn to yards.

Some squirrels spend the winter in tree cavities, while others will dig underground tunnels, depending on the type of squirrel. Squirrels start to work on their nests in the fall, finding soft materials to use.

This can include feathers, grass, pine needles, moss, and more. Nearly any soft material they find can be used. Squirrels may also nest together for more warmth. In neighborhoods, they are known to nest in attics. These shelters provide enough warmth for them to get through the cold months.

2. Shelters

There are several types of shelters that squirrels may use to survive the winter season. The exact type of burrows they create will depend on the type of squirrel and the environment they live in.

Common shelters for squirrel nests include;

Squirrels do not always have access to a space that can work as a shelter, so they will gather twigs, leaves, and small branches to construct their own nests. In neighborhoods, squirrel nesting can lead to damage in gardens, lawns, or residential houses.

3. Foraging

Foraging is another way that squirrels will get ready for the winter season. This is the act of them gathering and storing enough food to keep them fed for months to come.

You may also like:  Do Squirrels Eat Meat?

They will store food in the areas around their nests. Squirrels will consider the area of their nest and around it to be their territory and will fight unfamiliar squirrels that wander in.

gray squirrel on a tree

By spending time gathering food, these animals will not have to worry about foraging when the weather is cold. If food gets scarce, some squirrels will strip the bark off of trees to eat.

They are also known to steal food stockpiles from other squirrels. While some types of squirrels can remember most of the places they store food, others will easily forget.

What Squirrels Forage For

Squirrels will forage for a number of food to hide away for the winter. Their diet can vary depending on the regions they live in.

Common food sources for squirrels include;

  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Berries
  • Bird feed

These small mammals are known to steal from each other, or raid garages, sheds, and gardens. Seeds that are not eaten during the winter may end up growing into plants in the spring and summer.

4. Hoarding

The method squirrels use to hide food for the winter is called scatter hoarding. This involves them burying multiple piles of food around their nests. There is more than one benefit to this method.

Not only will squirrels have plenty of food sources when the weather gets cold, it can also be a deterrent to other animals stealing their food.


A thief may dig up one pile, but will assume there is nothing else there and move on. Squirrels may not be able to remember where each pile is, but they should still be able to dig up some of their stockpiles. If squirrels run out of their own food piles, they may resort to stealing from other squirrels and animals.

5. Extra Sleeping

Most types of squirrels will not hibernate during the winter, but they will sleep longer. Not only will they spend more time at night sleeping, they will also take frequent naps during the day.

Squirrels spend most of the time in their nest during the winter, only coming out for food if the weather is not too harsh. These animals will often sleep for multiple days in a row before waking up to eat.

6. Bulking Up and Extra Fur

To prepare for the upcoming winter, squirrels will start eating extra food to bulk up. Having extra fat keeps them more warm in the cold months, and helps them need to eat less. They will eat as much as they can to store fat on their bodies before winter starts.

On average, squirrels will have between 25% to 50% more weight in them by the time the season changes. The extra fat allows squirrels to sleep several days in a row without having to lead the nest to find food.

image: Pixabay.com

It is a key part of them being able to survive the winter season. Their coats will also get thicker, helping them withstand cold winds and below-freezing temperatures.

You may also like:  Where Do Rabbits Go in the Winter?


There are numerous ways that squirrels get ready to survive the harsh weather that comes with winter. These small mammals not only build their nests and food piles, they also prepare their bodies by eating extra food to store additional fat.