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Where Do Squirrels Nest? (Explained)

We’ve all seen those furry little critters with the fluffy tails running around and scaling trees. Squirrels sure are interesting animals, but there is so much we don’t know about them. For example, where do squirrels nest? You may have already seen their nests without even knowing it! Let’s dive deep into where these guys rest their heads, how to identify them, how they are made, and much more.

Where Do Squirrels Nest?

First, you should know that squirrels’ nesting sites will vary depending on their species, where they live, what is available to them, and the season. If tree cavities are available, this is usually their nesting spot of choice. Coniferous trees are their favorites, though any tree cavity of 2-8 inches that can adequately offer protection is a contender.

squirrel nest in tree | image by John Brighenti via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Some squirrels choose to create their nests, often referred to as “dreys”, out on the branches of the tree, so long as they’re at least 30-60 feet from the ground. Ground squirrels are the exact opposite, and tend to prefer underground tunnels in loose soil.

Why do squirrels build their nests so high? Safety is the main reason here. Just like with cats, you’ll notice that squirrels love being high up off the ground. With ground predators being their biggest threat, squirrels can rest easy knowing that most of them are either unable to unwilling to climb up the tree to get them.

Another advantage to being so high up, is that squirrels can better spot surrounding prey and predators.

What Are Squirrel Leaf Nests Made Of?

Most are not too different from bird nests, consisting of all kinds of interwoven material. Things like twigs, bark, fur, feathers, moss, and leaves are the most popular choices, and they’ll keep collecting until their nests reach approximately 1 foot across. The drey is always made in a spherical shape to create a more warm, protective home.

How squirrels make nests

The squirrel will begin by loosely weaving twigs together. The twigs are essential to keeping the nest’s shape, creating a kind of floor or “basket” frame. Not only that, but they’re essentially waterproof and won’t wilt when it rains. To create structure and reinforcement, they’ll add in damp leaves and moss on top of the twigs. These materials are soft and pliable, and make for a comfy place to rest. To ensure this material gets compressed, the squirrel will finish it off by weaving a second exterior basket of twigs around.

Generally, squirrel nests measure around 8 inches in diameter, though some squirrel species can make huge nests spanning up to 2 feet in width! Squirrels who really want to create a luxurious nest may add extra material, such as shredded bark, dry grass, or dry leaves.

Depending on the availability of necessary materials, a squirrel can get a leaf nest built in one day. Squirrels may use their heads and faces to bend twigs, front teeth to shred softer materials, and their hands and bodies to move around the leaves and moss. For tree cavity “dens”, they are created naturally by hollowing out an older tree. As they offer protection from the elements, this is preferable but not always feasible.

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Behavior

Now that we know all about how squirrel nests are made, let’s talk about how they’re used. It’s not uncommon for 2 squirrels to share a nest. During mating season, the male and female will share a nest until babies are ready to be born. Before the babies arrive, the male will go to his own nest. With 2 litters a year, averaging 3-5 babies per litter, the extra room is necessary.

Nests are typically only used at night and during random parts of the day, though most of the squirrels’ time will be dedicated toward foraging for nuts and berries. Squirrels don’t hibernate, and are essentially always on the move once they reach the age of 6 weeks old.

While they will usually keep their main, “primary” nest, some end up building a second or even third home. There are many reasons why they do this. First, is because it facilitates hunting in different places for food, and even offers a spot to store extra food.

Moreover, if a squirrel runs into an emergency situation where they can’t make it to their main nest for whatever reason, extra nests offer a way to hide from potential predators or give them a place to stop and rest.

Do Squirrels Come Back to the Same Nest?

While it may not happen 100% of the time, squirrels return to the same nest quite often. If a nest worked out well for them before, there’s really no reason for them not to. Some will even end up using their nests for years! The natural materials used form a rigid structure can hold up against extreme elements surprisingly well.

squirrel nest | image by gardener41 via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Identifying a Squirrel Nest

First off, you’re probably going to want to look up because a squirrel nest will always be in a tree (unless they’re ground squirrels). Look for a lot of leaves bunched together in higher branches, or a bunch of twigs woven together near the bridge where the trunk meets the branch.

Squirrel nests are often easy to mix up with a bird’s nest, however, you can tell it belongs to a squirrel by leaning closer and seeing if it has dried leaves. Birds don’t typically use dried leaves in theirs, and once you know this, they’ll be easier to spot.

Sometimes, you’ll also see leafy tufts sticking out of abandoned woodpecker holes or even large birdhouses!


Conclusion

In this article we learned that most squirrels nest in tree cavities while some build their nests on high up on tree branches, these nests are called dreys.

As squirrels usually only visit their nests after dusk, it may be difficult to catch a squirrel inside of their home. Make sure to check the trees near your home, because there could be a squirrel family closer than you think.

Thanks for reading!

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