Do Squirrels Have A Homing Instinct?

do squirrels have a homing instinct

The catch-and-release method is a popular way of getting rid of squirrels, but there is no guarantee they won’t return. Animals like homing pigeons can find their way home from hundreds of miles away, but it is unclear if this also applies to squirrels. So do squirrels have a homing instinct?

Some species of squirrels have homing instincts but not all. Gray squirrels particularly have strong homing instincts as they tend to pass down their homes from one generation to the next. Squirrels with a homing instinct can return home after traveling long distances, roughly 15 miles. 

There have been several animals that have made headlines for making their way home from great distances. Because of this, it isn’t surprising that many have wondered just what animals possess this stunning capability. 

Could squirrels make their way back home after traveling long distances? Here is what to know about particular squirrel homing instincts and whether or not all squirrels possess them. But first, let’s discuss what homing instinct is. 

What Is A Homing Instinct?

Homing instinct, also known as natal homing, is the innate ability of some animals to return to their birthplace or home. It’s believed that this ability is due to an animal’s navigation system and sense of smell or hearing, which helps them determine where they are going. 

For instance, a pigeon can navigate hundreds of miles by simply using its sense of smell. Even birds, bees, salmon, and rats can find their way home after traveling long distances.

The exact science behind it isn’t completely understood, but this incredible sense helps animals return home regardless of how far away they have gone. 

It is crucial for many animals to develop a homing instinct as it allows them to travel and find food or mates at great distances. 

All About Whether Squirrels Have A Homing Instinct

Some animals have a natural ability to find their way home. So it’s not surprising that people are curious about whether or not rodents have this same ability. 

This is especially true when you keep seeing the same pests daily.

Unsurprisingly, squirrels possess a solid homing instinct that many have come face to face with. An animal with a homing instinct typically can recall and go back to a location where it has previously been. 

This usually relates to the capacity to travel long distances to return home.

How Does A Squirrel’s Homing Instinct Works?

Are you wondering why squirrels are capable of this fantastic feat? They are intelligent critters with incredibly sharp memories. They can map out landmarks and remember the exact routes to venture back to their home without getting lost.

Although science has not been able to prove it thoroughly, squirrels have traveled great distances to return to their preferred habitat. 

This is where they feel safe and have a source of food and water. 

Furthermore, squirrels prefer to settle down and dwell together in one place. They tend to even take up residence in colonies because of how intensely territorial they get, unlike chipmunks.

For example, gray squirrels have been known to have a homing instinct. 

Their nesting homes are passed down from generation to generation like a family heirloom passed down in some families for generations. If that’s not a sign of strong homing instincts, I don’t know what is.

Due to their strong homing instinct, squirrels are motivated to return to the food stashes they hoard protectively. 

They rarely leave their food as they work hard to gather a decent stash for the upcoming winter. This proves that squirrels try their best to return to a habitable home whenever possible.

Science has a tough time explaining this phenomenon in squirrels. However, some contend that squirrels bring their territorial instinct into their owners’ homes, effectively helping them get home. 

At the same time, more assert that squirrels rely on recognizable scents. Others agree that squirrels depend on the earth’s magnetic field, another interesting phenomenon occurring in other animals with homing instincts.

Do Squirrels With Homing Instincts Return When Released?

Releasing squirrels too close to their preferred habitat will inevitably lead to them using their innate homing instinct to get back home. This is because squirrels can travel great distances of up to 15 miles, particularly at night. 

Therefore, relocating them to an area that is less than 10 miles only means that you can look forward to seeing them in the next 3 or 4 days.

They are also incredibly good at remembering the different nesting homes in their home range. 

This was proven by a study where several squirrels were marked with paint, caught, and released. Those very same squirrels were seen back at their initial habitat in no time, 2 to 3 days max.

Should You Relocate Squirrels With A Strong Homing Instinct?

Many people don’t want to coexist with squirrels. At first, they are cute, but they cause thousands of dollars worth of damage to your yard and perhaps even your house.

These critters are excellent at disrupting the soil supporting your home, as they are well-known for tunneling under everything. 

Therefore, it is understandable that the last thing homeowners want to deal with is a squirrel that terrorizes them and their homes.

However, relocation without preparation isn’t the best. Despite the widespread belief that live-trapping squirrels and moving them to woodsy areas is the best option for everyone involved, this isn’t the case.

Due to stress, malnutrition, dehydration, and local animals’ hostility, many relocated animals don’t get to find a new stable home where they can thrive. 

According to studies, many squirrels trapped and relocated die soon after simply because they are not used to their new environment. 

Because moving to a new place may result in conflict, it is not advised to relocate squirrels with strong homing instincts. In most cases, not relocating the squirrel isn’t an option. 

Let’s face it; they can be the bane of your existence in many ways.

One great option is to try humane eviction. You can even carefully pester the critters until they leave your area. 

This is the next best option if you cannot wait for them to depart independently. Squirrels in the wild have a thorough understanding of their home ranges. 

They have in-depth information or cognitive map representations that give them a good idea of alternative safe havens. 

Also, keep in mind that it is forbidden to relocate nuisance animals in several areas. Therefore, anyone considering relocating troublesome squirrels should first speak with their local office to find alternative solutions.

Do All Squirrels Have Homing Instincts?

Although research is still up in the air, studies show that not all squirrels have homing instincts. 

Even though some pet squirrels can be trained to have tracking instincts, their homing ability is more often the exception than the norm.

If squirrels lack homing instincts, they may be unable to remember where their home is. This is because your squirrel may be familiar with everyone at home, but they simply won’t know how to get back. A squirrel without homing instincts is difficult to look after as a pet. 

If you let them out, they will most likely become lost and unable to find their way back home.

Final Word

As can be seen, some squirrels have homing instincts. This makes it difficult to relocate them as they end up in a dangerous situation. Squirrels that do not have homing instincts are more likely to forget where home is. 

Because no one, not even science, can explain exactly what causes an animal to mark its territory, home, or habitat, homing is still essentially a mystery.

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