Just like human beings, squirrels like to stay indoors and keep warm during the cold winter months. Squirrels make early preparation for the cold season by collecting and burying nuts and seeds in small shallow holes which they cover with dirt to retrieve later. This hoarding of food is known as caching. The squirrels don’t remember all the caching locations and in this way help the ecology of the area by planting shrubs, trees and other plants.
The squirrels also begin to feed aggressively as winter approaches to store body fat. The critter may eat up to its own body weight in food in a week in preparation for the cold months ahead. They bulk up significantly and this process helps with sustenance and to keep them warm. Where the squirrels go exactly depends on the species.
Do Squirrels Hibernate?
There is a lot of debate on whether or not squirrels hibernate but most experts agree only some species of squirrels hibernate.
Ground squirrels dig burrows in the ground where they bunker-in for the season. They prefer to burrow on the sloped ground to prevent their enclave from flooding and under rocks or logs to protect them from predators. Ground squirrels hibernate for the winter. They may wake up a few times during this period to forage especially if they have stashed away plenty of food.
Some species such as the Richardson’s ground squirrel (native to Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Southern Alberta) can hibernate for up to nine months.
Flying squirrels and tree squirrels do not hibernate. They maintain roughly the same body temperature throughout the year. These species make dens in tree trunks to hide from the cold weather. These also build dreys which are sturdy nests made from tree branches and twigs, similar to the typical bird nest. The squirrel will use the extra material for the dray during winter and can nest up to 30 feet high in the tree.
Squirrels stay in their nests for most of the day during winter and sleep for 18-20 hours. They may venture outside during warmer days or mild winters but otherwise prefer to stay inside. They huddle in tight groups to keep each other warm. This is why you rarely see squirrels in winter causing many people to assume that all squirrels hibernate.
Where Do Squirrels Sleep at Night in The Winter?
The red, fox, and gray squirrels during the winter sleep in their nest which is called a “drey”. The drey is made up of sticks and twigs and then lined up with grass, leaves, bark and moss. You are most likely to see the nest built between the branches of a tall tree or in the attic of a house.
If you want to know whether your home serves as an abode for red squirrels, simply look out for the remains of pine cones. Pine cones are known to be the favorite food of this specie of squirrels, and they accumulate them in great numbers wherever they reside. During the winter, the squirrels will gather up in great numbers in nests to keep warm alongside the pieces of pinecone they have stored.
However, for ground squirrels, their winter night sleeping habits differ. For one, they live and sleep in burrows dug into the ground. They also enter a state of hibernation for as long as five or six months, only waking up occasionally to forage for food before going back to sleep.
How Do Squirrels Prepare for Winter?
To prepare for the winter season, squirrels do the following two (2) things:
The same way humans put on more layers to keep warm during winter is the same way squirrels’ “layer” by fattening up. Layering starts during fall. Here, the squirrels maximize food consumption to gain body mass. The added weight helps their body produce more heat thereby keeping them warm.
Prior to the winter season, squirrels start to hoard up food. The reason for the hoarding is because movement during the winter will be restricted. Squirrels will spend more time in their dreys rather than out of it. Therefore, to survive, they store up food in a shallow hole around or within their dens.
However, not all these storage locations will be remembered by the squirrels in future. As a result, these long-forgotten fruits and seeds dry up, enter the soil, and germinate into new plants.
How Do Squirrels Survive Cold Weather?
For squirrels, surviving the cold weather is a matter of deploying the following tactics:
For humans, shivering might be an indication of the cold, but for squirrels, it is a method of warding off the cold. Gray squirrels are fond of doing this as it helps generate heat.
Staying in a warm environment is one of the several methods available to avoid being exposed to freezing temperatures. Squirrels understand this and that is why during the summer and fall, they start building up their stores of food. When the cold weather comes around, they stay indoors and feed on the stored-up food during the warm weather.
Some squirrels during the cold weather live together in the same drey. The shared body heat keeps them warm.
If you see a squirrel running around during the cold winter, it might be a tree squirrel. This is because ground squirrels go into hibernation during the winter season.
Winter Damage Caused by Squirrels
Squirrels help a great deal with dispersing seeds for hardwood trees but they can be destructive for property owners. The squirrels will dig up the yard, tear up manicured lawns and uproot potted plants while hiding their food stash.
The dirt mounds are a tripping hazard and can also damage farm and yard equipment. The burrowing can also kill trees, especially during the warmer seasons. Finally, the rodents will happily nest in your garage, shed, or attic given the opportunity. A squirrel can squeeze through a hole a 1 ½ inch hole so the likelihood there are gaps and cracks that the squirrels can fit through and into your house is extremely high.
Hire a Wildlife Removal Expert to Get Rid of Squirrels
You may want to hold off your removal plans until the winter is over for ethical reasons. The squirrels could freeze to death or starve to death if relocated away from their food caches during winter.
It may not always be possible to wait until the weather thaws to remove the wildlife so hire an expert who will conduct the removal safely and humanely. Keep in mind that it is illegal to harm or kill wildlife in Toronto, even by accident. A squirrel removal Toronto expert will ensure that the animals are removed safely including any litter that will almost certainly be there. The expert will also know how to prevent a squirrel invasion in the future.
Article Updated: February 26, 2020