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Squirrel Nest: Understanding Their Homes and Habits

Updated: Oct 1, 2023



If you've ever spotted a squirrel darting up a tree on a leisurely walk in Brampton, or heard squirrel activity on your rooftop, chances are you've encountered these charismatic creatures in their natural habitat. Squirrels, known for their lively antics and bushy tails, are well-known for building nests high up in the trees. In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of how grey and red squirrels live in nests, how female squirrels turn ordinary twigs and leaves into intricate nests to provide a safe haven for their young during the nesting season, and the purpose, and habits of these resourceful creatures.




What Does A Squirrel Nest Look Like On The Inside and Outside?


Squirrel nests look like a clump of leaves and are also known as squirrel dreys and are not like bird nests. They are intricate structures that serve as homes for squirrels and provide shelter, protection, and warmth throughout the year. A squirrels nest is built primarily in trees, offering the squirrels a safe haven from predators and harsh weather conditions.

The appearance of a squirrel nest can vary depending on if gray squirrels or other species of squirrel built it. Generally, the nests are constructed with twigs, leaves, moss, and other natural materials.


Outside Appearance:

  • The exterior of a squirrel nest typically looks like a loose ball or clump of twigs and leaves.

  • It is often situated high up in a tree, in a fork of branches or on a sturdy limb.

  • The size of the nest varies, but it is usually about the size of a basketball or smaller.

Inside Appearance:

  • Inside the nest, there is a central chamber where the squirrels rest and raise their young.

  • The interior is lined with softer materials like moss, leaves, grass, and even fur, creating a comfortable and warm environment.

  • The central chamber is surrounded by a dense outer layer of twigs and leaves, providing protection and camouflage from predators and the elements.

The construction of a squirrel nest is an impressive feat of architecture, considering the small size of the animals. Squirrels use their sharp teeth to gnaw and shape the twigs, and they often gather materials from the surrounding trees and ground.

It's essential to respect and preserve these nests if you come across them in the wild. Disturbing them can cause stress to the squirrels and may even lead them to abandon their nests. Observing them from a distance and appreciating their ingenuity from afar is the best approach.



Types of Squirrel Nests

There are three main types of squirrel nests: leaf nests, tree cavity nests, and den nests. Leaf nests, the most common type tree squirrels, are constructed using leaves, twigs, and other natural materials. A tree cavity den is built within pre-existing holes or cavities in trees, while other den nests are located in the ground, often created by digging into the soil. The next time you’re outside, look up near the tops of the trees and see how many squirrel nests can you spot. Are you able to see any squirrel nests hanging from the tree branches?


Nest Construction

Squirrels exhibit remarkable architectural skills when it comes to constructing their nests. They gather a variety of materials to build nests, including leaves, twigs, bark, moss, and grass, meticulously weaving them together to create a secure and cozy structure. The interlocking branches and leaves of leaf nests help to form a sturdy foundation for tree squirrels to live.


Location Preferences

Squirrels are selective about the location of their nests. They choose trees with dense foliage and strong branches that can support the weight of the nest. Furthermore, they prefer trees that are in close proximity to reliable food sources like pine and bird feeders, such as nut-bearing trees. Nests located near the top of the tree afford a high vantage point for the many flying squirrels species to keep an eye out for any approaching predators. It’s not unusual for squirrels to have a primary nest but they also may have other dreys or dens close by, ie a previously abandoned nest or other tree cavity dens that they’ve claimed as their own. For safety reasons, occasionally female squirrels will have to relocate their brood to a second or third den in order to keep her young squirrels safe.


Material Selection

The choice of materials used by grey squirrels in nest construction depends on the availability and suitability of resources within the squirrels' habitat. Squirrels often use damp leaves, grass, feathers, and shredded tree bark during the early spring and summer months to build their nests, as they provide better insulation and camouflage. In contrast, during the winter when leaves are scarce, they rely on twigs, bark, and moss.


Nest Features and Design

Typically, eastern grey squirrels' nests look like a sphere, or are globular in shape, with a diameter ranging from 30 to 60 centimetres. They consist of an outer shell made of twigs and leaves, which is very durable and acts as a protective barrier against the elements. Inside, a soft and warm inner chamber is lined with moss, grass, and other comfortable materials. Other types of nest cavities include tree cavity dens and tree hollows. If you notice squirrels activity going on in small entry holes of trunks of trees surrounding your property, that might indicate a den as well.


Seasonal Changes in Nests

Squirrel nests undergo modifications depending on the season. During the colder months, squirrels add extra insulation to their nests, incorporating materials like shredded bark, fur, or feathers in order to survive the blustery winter conditions. In urban areas, squirrels will use patio furniture stuffing, shreds of plastic and other man-made materials. In the warmer months, they may remove some of the insulating materials to regulate the temperature inside the nest. In the winter, multiple squirrels will live in the same nest together to help conserve body heat.


Nests as Protection

Squirrel nests serve as a safeguard against predators. Being elevated in trees or hidden in tree cavities or dens makes it difficult for predators like snakes, raccoons, and birds of prey to access the nests. The height also gives squirrels a vantage point to observe potential dangers in their surroundings.


Nests as Shelter for Young

Squirrel nests play a crucial role in providing a safe environment for a nesting squirrel raising their young. Mother squirrels create cozy nurseries within their nests, lining them with soft materials to keep their baby squirrels warm and protected during their vulnerable early stages of life. Most young squirrels leave the nest by 10 weeks of age, after the mother squirrel teaches them all the basics for survival. During, and after breeding season, squirrels occasionally use the same nest when they have their second litter of young in the fall.



Maintenance and Repair

Squirrels are diligent in maintaining their nests. They regularly inspect and repair any damage caused by weather or other external factors. Damp leaves, twigs, and pine needles are constantly replaced, ensuring the squirrel's nest remains sturdy and secure.


Squirrel Nest Predators

While squirrel nests offer protection, they are not entirely impervious to predators. Some persistent predators, like tree-climbing snakes or many wild birds, may manage to reach the nests located there despite the squirrels' best efforts. However, squirrels have developed various strategies to minimize these risks and will do their best to secure nests that they inhabit.


Interaction with Humans

Squirrels often share spaces with humans, residing in urban parks, gardens, trees on your property, and even inside your attics, soffits, or crawl spaces. Their presence can be both entertaining and challenging for humans. While some people enjoy watching their playful antics, others may encounter issues like property damage caused by gnawing or nest-building activities, or even sleep deprivation from the noise or activity in the attic.


Squirrels and Nest Relocation

Squirrels may relocate their nests for several reasons. Changes in food availability, disturbances in their environment, or the presence of predators can prompt squirrels to abandon their current nest and build a new one elsewhere. Squirrel nest building activity isn’t always what transpires though, as they’ve been known to take over previous woodpecker nests or even another abandoned nest.


The Importance of Nest Conservation

Conserving squirrel nests is vital for the well-being of these fascinating creatures. By preserving their natural habitats and protecting the trees where squirrels live and where their nests are built, we can ensure the survival of all squirrel species' populations and contribute to the overall biodiversity of our ecosystems.


Squirrel Nest Removal

Removing a squirrel nest that is up high in a tree on your property should be done with careful consideration and only for valid reasons. Here are some factors to consider before deciding whether to remove the squirrel nest:

1. Legal Considerations: In some areas, it may be illegal to disturb or remove squirrel nests, as squirrels are protected wildlife. Before taking any action, it's essential to check local laws and regulations regarding wildlife protection.

2. Ecological Importance: Squirrels play a vital role in the ecosystem by helping with seed dispersal and controlling insect populations. Removing their nests can disrupt their natural behavior and affect the local ecosystem.

3. Nesting Season: Squirrels typically build nests when they are preparing to have young ones. During the nesting season, it is best to avoid disturbing the nests to prevent harm to the mother and her babies.

4. Human-Squirrel Conflict: If the squirrel nest is causing significant issues like damage to property or posing safety hazards (e.g., if it's too close to electrical wires), you might consider contacting local wildlife or pest control experts to address the problem safely.

5. Aesthetic Concerns: If the presence of the squirrel nest affects the aesthetics of your property, consider alternative solutions like landscaping or planting trees to provide natural cover and reduce visibility.

6. Safety Concerns: If the squirrel nest is close to an area where people frequently gather or pass by, there might be a risk of falling debris or droppings. In such cases, ensuring safety is important.


In general, it is best to avoid removing squirrel nests unless there is a legitimate reason and no legal restrictions. If you are uncertain about what to do, it is advisable to seek guidance from local wildlife control authorities or experts who can assess the situation and provide appropriate advice. Remember, respecting and coexisting with wildlife is crucial for maintaining the balance of the ecosystem and preserving the natural environment.


Squirrel nests are remarkable structures that showcase the resourcefulness and adaptability of these small mammals. Their nests provide a safe haven, protection from predators, and a nurturing environment for raising their young. Understanding the intricacies of a squirrel nest allows us to appreciate the fascinating lives of these agile and charismatic creatures.


FAQs

Q1: How long does it take for squirrels to build a nest? Squirrels can construct a nest within a few days or up to a week, depending on the availability of materials and their familiarity with the process. You may notice these opportunistic creatures busy collecting material with which to build the squirrel’s drey (their nest). They are sometimes built cradled in tree branches or hanging from a branch.


Q2: Can squirrels be harmful to trees? While squirrels generally do not cause significant harm to trees, their gnawing activities may damage tree bark. Squirrels build nests by using shredded bark from tree trunks to line the interior of their nests. Sometimes, through a natural process, tree cavity dens come about which are hollowed-out spots or entry holes in a tree and these are very inviting locations for them to have their squirrel den. However, neither of these occurrences can really cause enough damage to be detrimental to the overall health of the tree.


Q3: Are squirrel nests reused in subsequent years? Yes, a squirrel nest can be reused in subsequent years, especially if they are still structurally sound. They will also occupy an abandoned nest from other, earlier inhabitants. However, squirrels will more often build new nests to ensure their safety and accommodate changing environmental conditions.


Q4: How many squirrels typically live in a nest? A squirrel nest usually houses a single family, consisting of a mother squirrel and her baby squirrels. Female squirrels keep their babies with them until they are approximately ten to twelve weeks old, at which point they will start to venture out on their own. However, during severe weather conditions, multiple squirrels may share a nest to conserve body heat and keep warm.


Q5: Are grey squirrels' nests visible during winter when the leaves have fallen? Yes, a squirrel nest is more visible during winter when the trees have shed their leaves. Squirrel nests stay together in the winter due to the way squirrels build nests. These tree nests have a tough outer shell that can stand up to harsh winter conditions and it’s not uncommon for them to use the same nest all year round. You’ll still notice squirrels outside in the cold months, just not nearly as much. They sleep more than usual to conserve body heat and they store extra food in secondary dreys to survive the blustery winter. A squirrel drey is much larger than a typical bird nest, their distinctive globular shape can be observed among the branches, providing a glimpse into the fascinating world of squirrels.



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