Now that winter is over, I am starting to see the grey squirrels in my yard again. This got me thinking “do squirrels hibernate or migrate?”
Do Squirrels Hibernate or Migrate?
We all know that birds migrate to warmer areas like Florida and Texas. The only squirrels that hibernate are the ground squirrels, all other types will spend a lot of time sleeping in their drey. (nests) During the cold winter months, they spend all their time in their den and won’t come out until the weather breaks.
The grey squirrels do not hibernate and they can usually be seen at all times of the year. However, they are less active in the colder months and spend more time sleeping for long periods.
It’s not unusual for Grey squirrels to migrate if there is a shortage in the food supply. That’s why you’ll see them living in wooded areas and backyards because there is plenty of food for them to eat. Read my in-depth guide on what do squirrels eat so you can ensure that you’re feeding them the right foods.
If you’re just getting started on feeding them, make sure that you read my how to get started feeding squirrels guide, to ensure that you get started correctly.
However, we haven’t seen a squirrel mass migration since 1933, when 1,000 squirrels swam across the Connecticut River in search of a more abundant food supply.
When Do Squirrels Go Into Hibernation?
If squirrels do not hibernate, when do they start sleeping long hours? In fact, these little fellas spent 60% of their total time sleeping. They spend an average of 14.9 hours sleeping each day.
The Eastern Gray Squirrel which is one of the most common types and is also known as the tree-dwelling squirrel can be seen out in the winter month, as long as the temperatures do not drop below 30℉.
They do not like the bitter cold so they hunker down in their den or drey during the cold trying to stay warm with their friends. As soon as there is a break in the cold weather, they will venture out and collect an abundance of food.
The sleeping habits and nesting places will vary depending on the type of squirrel. There are 3 main types of squirrels and they are:
The most common type in North America is the gray squirrel. Here’s a look at where you’ll find the different types of squirrels. The months they vegetate will be based on the cold weather months of the regions they live in.
Gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are the most common type found in backyards. You have most probably seen an Eastern Gray Squirrel in your backyard, parks, or in forests in the Eastern part of the United States.
Southern Flying squirrels or Glaucomys volans live throughout Canada, Southeast Alaska, parts of California consisting of the Yosemite Valley.
Ground squirrels (genus Citellus) also known as gophers, live in heavily wooded areas and prefer to live in trees. These can be found in Africa and S Asia. They can also be found West of the Hudson Bay, from the Arctic Ocean to Central Mexico. The ground squirrels are the only ones that burrow and hole up in their warm burrows during the winter months.
They have been known to cause a lot of damage to people’s property. That’s why it’s important to make sure that you’re proofing your house to keep squirrels out of your attic and home.
When they lie torpid, they are light sleepers and choose some of the worst places to sleep for the winter. They dig tunnels along walkways, fencing, and tree roots. Ground squirrels hibernate from September to March.
How An Arctic Squirrel Survives Winter
As you can see, squirrels can be found everywhere in the world, excluding Australia.
How Do Squirrels Prepare for Winter?
Squirrels prepare for winter by bulking up throughout the fall. Squirrels can sense drops in the barometric pressure and this is what will send them on a feeding spree.
They start prepping for winter during the warm months. They are great survivalists and will find and bury 3 years worth of food during the Summer and Fall months.
How Do Squirrels Stay Warm In The Winter?
When they get hungry during the winter, they’ll dig up their nuts for a winter snack. These mammals will eat twice as much during the warmer months. The extra fat will help them survive the harsh winters.
It’s not unusual to find two or more gray squirrels in one nest. This adds an extra layer of protection to keep them warm during the winter months.
Ground squirrels will usually burrow with 10 or more other squirrels in the same den.
Studies also show that these hibernators bodies go through physiological changes such as reduced body temperature, heart rate, and breathing rate.
What Do Squirrels Eat In The Winter?
Squirrels love eating nuts, flower funds, fungi, tree bark, and chestnuts. However, the type of food they will eat will depend on the season. Before winter arrives, they will gather enough food to last them for up to 3 years.
Squirrels begin their gestation period in January, and females require a lot of food during the winter. The first of their young are born in February and they will venture out looking for food in March and April.
Baby Squirrels Nesting
Check out this adorable video of baby squirrels inside a nest that their mother built.
Should You Feed Squirrels?
Some people love feeding wild birds, there’s no reason why you can’t give squirrels food. You can feed them in squirrel houses or just leave food on the ground. I’d recommend leaving it far enough away from your home.
Squirrels are notorious for causing damage and have even been known to go into the attic during the winter months.
What to Feed Squirrels In The Winter?
While most squirrels are burrowed deep in their dens sleeping during the cold winter months. It’s not unusual to see one every now and then. Some of them are active for a few hours a day in the cold weather.
You can put up a special squirrel feeder or house that will ensure that no other animals can get at the food. The best thing to feed squirrels is a feed mixture that consists of:
- Sunflower seeds
- Dried maize kernels
Food is hard to come by during the winter, so don’t be surprised if they don’t find your supply.
Where Do Squirrels Sleep During the Winter?
Ground squirrels will dig little caves in the ground to help them stay warm. Tree-dwelling squirrels and red squirrels will make dens in the trees or build dreys (nests) in branches of trees.
They usually build more than one nest, just in case one nest is disturbed by a predator or it is overrun by fleas and lice.
You might have seen a squirrel nest in your back yard, especially, if you have trees. Maybe you’ve seen them before, but had no clue what they looked like?
What Consists of A Squirrel Den?
These nests are made with dry leaves, twigs, and grass. They are usually assembled in the forks of a tall tree. Their nests can be built in tree branches as high as 30 feet off the ground, where two limbs meet.
Do All Squirrels Sleep During the Winter?
As I mentioned above, squirrels don’t like cold weather. So do squirrels that live in warmer places like Texas, California, and Florida actually vegetate?
All squirrels will go through a period of seasonal sleep. During this time, they will only wake for 12 to 20 hours per week.
When Do Squirrels Come Out of Hibernation?
Most tree and flying squirrels remain active year round. Ground squirrels will remain dormant during the extreme cold or hot weather.
You’ll start noticing squirrels foraging for food in the Spring, as soon as the weather gets warmer. They’ll come out of their dens in search of food.
They are most active during the daylight hours. It’s not hard to miss them searching for food in the woods or bird feeders in the morning or evening.
This behavior is even seen in captive squirrels. During the day, squirrels will find a cool shady spot to nap, this is known as “splatting”.
What Is Splatting?
This is a defensive measure that squirrels use to hide the lighter color of their belly and protect them from predators. It helps them blend into their environment and it’s not uncommon for them to do this on the bark of a tree.
Beyond the defensive strategy, squirrels lie flat with their legs spread. Their feet appear to have landed “splat” in that position. They do this to help them cool down by dissipating body heat.
The “splat” position allows their superficial blood vessels to come into close contact with the ground which helps them cool down quickly.
Do Squirrels Hibernate In Texas? The most common type in Central Texas is the tree squirrel, Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger), and the Eastern Gray Squirrel. They start hiding in their dreys starting in November and emerge in Late February to March to start breeding.
Like us, they enjoy bright calm sunny days. During the warm months, it’s not unusual for you to find the grey squirrel in your backyard trying to eat from your bird feeder.
It may sound like a funny or unimportant question regarding squirrels and hibernation. But I’ve always wondered why I really don’t see squirrels in the Winter.
There’s a lot to learn about these amazing creatures and hopefully, this information will help you understand how these creatures survive outside in the coldest weather.
Other Squirrel Facts You Maybe Be Interested In:
- Can Squirrels Burp or Fart?
- How Much Do Squirrels Eat?
- What Do Squirrels Eat?
- How Long Do Squirrels Live?
- Do Squirrels Come Out At Night?
Further Reading and References
Eleanor McKenzie – Migration of Gray Squirrels – Mass Migration
The Virtual Nature Trail at Penn State New Kensington Species Page – The Eastern Gray Squirrel
Jason Bittel – How Do Squirrels Deal With Cold? They May Not Feel It Like Us – National Geographic