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Where Do Squirrels Go in the Winter?

fSquirrels are one of the most common rodents in North America, with approximately 200 species found worldwide. These animals are known for being intelligent and adaptable animals, capable of surviving the cold winter months.

But, where do squirrels go in the winter? By reading this article, you can learn more about what these animals do in the winter to survive!

Where do squirrels go in the winter?

Since squirrels are mammals, they must deal with cold weather like any other mammal. They do this in a few different ways, depending on the species.

Some squirrels will hibernate for months until spring arrives, and others will enter a state known as torpor to cope with the cold. Torpor, like hibernation, conserves energy by slowing the body’s functions and lowering its temperature; however, unlike hibernation, torpor doesn’t involve deep sleep.

Key Takeaways:

  • Squirrels gather and store food in preparation for the winter.
  • Only the ground squirrel hibernates all winter, while the others only enter a state known as torpor.
  • These rodents don’t migrate during the winter, but they’ll leave their area if there is a fire or famine.

Preparation for winter

Red squirrel sitting on the snow
Red squirrel sitting on the snow

Squirrels, like other animals, have their own ways of preparing for the cold winter months, one of which is by hoarding food. Because they know they won’t be able to find enough food in the forest when winter arrives, you’re more likely to see squirrels storing food during the fall season.

These rodents keep them in various locations, such as under rocks near their nesting site. They do this to ensure that there’ll be enough food available when winter arrives.

In addition, squirrels store fat in their bodies by eating a lot of food before winter arrives. Gaining weight helps them insulate their bodies and fight the cold weather and keeps them from becoming overly hungry when food is scarce.

Do squirrels hibernate?

Most squirrels don’t hibernate. However, there are some who do. Hibernation occurs when animals become inactive during the winter and their body temperature drops. This time is spent sleeping or in a coma-like state.

This is how they conserve energy during cold weather, which they wouldn’t be able to do if they had to be constantly active. In general, only certain types of animals that live in places with a winter season hibernate, including some types of squirrels, and knowing how to tell them apart is important, so you don’t make any mistakes when handling one.

Squirrels that don’t hibernate in winter

Squirrel on tree
Squirrel on tree | Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Squirrels are one of the few animals that can enter a state of torpor during winter, and the species that are unable to hibernate throughout the winter season enter this state. When squirrels enter torpor, their metabolism slows, which means they don’t require as much food or water.

Because of this, they can survive the winter without spending much energy foraging or gathering food. During winter, squirrels tend to hide in their dreys to avoid predators and cuddle up with fellow squirrels to stay warm. When spring returns and temperatures rise, squirrels awaken from their torpor state and begin to prepare for summer.

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Do squirrels migrate?

The movement of animals from one area to another for a specific reason is known as migration. This can be voluntary, as in the case of many birds and mammals, with the primary purposes being food, water, or shelter.

Squirrels aren’t migratory animals, but they do move in response to environmental cues. For example, they’ll evacuate if there is a fire or a flood in their area.

If there are too many squirrels in one area, they’ll disperse to other areas. Squirrels also leave their territory if a predator enters their area and threatens them or their young.

Where do squirrels hide during winter?

Red squirrel building a nest
Red squirrel building a nest | image by hedera.baltica via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Some squirrels, such as ground squirrels, live in underground dens and burrows, whereas tree squirrels live in nests called dreys, which are typically made of layers of twigs, leaves, bark, and grass.

These dreys, which are slightly larger than a football, are usually found at the fork of a branch. However, whether a squirrel lives underground or in a tree, their nests serve the same purpose: to provide a shelter where they can hide during the winter months to avoid freezing to death due to the cold weather.

The types of squirrels during winter

Ground Squirrels

Ground Squirrel eating carrot
A ground Squirrel eating carrot | image by Tambako The Jaguar via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Ground squirrels are small underground mammals. When it gets cold outside, ground squirrels need to find a warm place to stay until spring returns. They do this by digging holes and staying underground in their burrows.

The ground squirrel is the only squirrel species that hibernate during the winter. Ground squirrels hibernate for six to eight months, depending on species and location. These animals prepare for hibernation by storing food in their burrows.

Tree Squirrels

Tree Squirrel eating
A tree Squirrel eating | image by Astyan42 via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Tree squirrels are a type of squirrel that lives in trees and builds nests in their branches, similar to how birds do. When there are no trees in the vicinity, you’ll see their nests in attics and garages.

During winter, tree squirrels will enter a state of torpor to avoid the cold weather. By reducing their body temperature and metabolic rate, they can conserve energy and make it through the chilly winter months when food is in short supply. These creatures don’t hibernate, but they may sleep for longer periods of time than usual.

Flying Squirrels

Flying squirrel on tree
A flying squirrel on tree

Flying squirrels are rodents that, as the name implies, can fly. They live in trees and glide from one to the other, thanks to a membrane that stretches between their front and back legs.

This allows them to cover long distances because of this. Flying squirrels don’t hibernate during the winter and only enter shallow torpor when temperatures become too low for them to survive. To stay warm, these squirrels will go into their nests and cuddle up with other squirrels.

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Final Thoughts

Squirrels are known to be adaptable animals, but it’s difficult to imagine a creature as small and cute as a squirrel surviving the cold weather. But they do!

Squirrels have several winter survival strategies, including hibernation and staying in dens. They also change their diets and behaviors to ensure they get enough food and warmth during winter.