I was sitting on the back porch the other day watching the squirrels jump around and chase each other the other morning. This got me wondering, where do they sleep and what does a squirrel nest look like? So I’ve decided to do some research and find out everything you need to know about a squirrel nest also known as a drey.
What Does A Squirrel Nest Look Like?
If you live by a lot of trees, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen a clump of leaves in the branches and trunks of towering trees, these are known as squirrel nests (aka dreys). They look like big balls of leaves up in the trees and are more visible during the winter.
Southern flying squirrels prefer to make their home in deciduous or mixed North American forests.
Eastern Grey squirrels and red squirrels will both make their dens in trunks of trees or build nests in branches using leaves and twigs both the male and female gather.
How Does A Squirrel Build Their Nest?
As I mentioned both the female and male squirrel of all ages participate in the building of their nest. They typically build nests in the summer by weaving together small branches they gnaw off of the trees. They usually build the outer skeleton with twigs and vines and insulate the core with damp and dry leaves.
Depending on where they build their nests, the inner cavity of a leaf nest is about 6-8 inches in diameter. However, gray squirrels are known to build much larger nest cavities that can span 2 feet wide.
The nests are lined with pine needles, leaves, moss, and grass. Watch this video below to see a squirrel building a nest.
Squirrels build their nests before breeding. It’s secured tightly in the tree to help protect their babies they just gave birth to as well as a way to stay warm in the winter.
Do Squirrels Have Multiple Nests?
These critters are survivors and they do have several predators that want to hurt or kill them. This is why will spend more of their time foraging for food and building auxiliary nests. These alternative dens or dreys are built casually compared to their main home, but it offers them protection if they need to escape a predator or are seeking protection from the weather.
The squirrels also store extra food in these back-up homes. It’s NOT uncommon for them to use them as rest areas before they go back out foraging again.
How to Identify Squirrel Nests?
Now that you why squirrels build their nests in preparation for the winter and mating season. Let’s take a look at the two types of nests. One is called a “drey,” which resembles a birds nest and the other is a “den” which is a squirrel home that is built inside of cavities or hollow spaces of a tree.
These squirrel homes are typically built using twigs, moss, dry and wet leaves, and other natural debris. The skeleton base is built carefully weaving the twigs and vines together loosely.
Once the base is built, they line the inner cavity with moss and damp leaves to create a durable structure that can withstand the elements, before weaving a sphere around the outer shell. To add more support the squirrel stuffs twigs, leaves, and moss in the exterior to create a durable structure.
At last, they will line the interior cavity with leaves, bark, and grass. Dreys can be up to 30 feet from the ground and it is extremely durable to withstand strong winds.
Squirrels build their homes in sturdy trees with several branches and strong limbs. They prefer to build their nests in strong trees such as elm, maples, and beech trees.
It’s NOT uncommon to find a squirrel nest that has fallen out of a tree. This is why there is so much information about what to do if you find a baby squirrel.
These homes are built in empty hollow cavities of tree trunks and empty woodpecker nests. Squirrels line the den with moss and twigs. They line the bottom and sides with leaves to make it comfortable and warm for the winter and their babies.
They tend to prefer dens as opposed to dreys because they offer more protection for the harsh elements of the weather and predators.
Dreys in the winter are lined with more leaves to provide more insulation than those built for the warmer months.
Studies show that squirrel babies born in dens have a higher chance of survival than those born in dreys.
If a squirrel finds an opportunity to find shelter in someone’s attic during the winter or breeding season, they will. They prefer to seek shelter in garages, inside walls, under sheds, attics, crawl spaces and inside the chimney.
All these spots offer the squirrel shelter from both predators and the outdoor elements. Most squirrels will only seek shelter in someone’s property if they can’t find a tree to build a nest.
While we’ve never seen a squirrel nest in the attic, we did decide to set up a squirrel nest box in the trees around our home.
It’s no different than providing birds with a nesting box. Plus, it’s a great way to provide them shelter for them and their babies.
What Does A Flying Squirrel Nest Look Like?
Southern flying squirrels usually build their nests inside of hollow trees. Their nests are built at least 15 feet above the ground. They prefer to build their homes in abandoned woodpecker or crow’s nests.
It’s also known for flying squirrels to nest in bird boxes, squirrel boxes, and sometimes in attics.
Unlike the grey and red squirrels, it’s not uncommon to find 10 or more squirrels living together in one nest, especially, during the cold winter months. This provides them added insulation during the cold.
They will usually live in the den and keep coming back season after season until it becomes dirty and flea ridden. At that point, they will move to a new location and build a new home.
Where Do Squirrels Have Their Babies?
Just like other mammals, squirrels seek shelter during squirrel mating season and will have their babies inside the nests. They build their nests well before mating season so it’s ready when their litter of babies comes.
Depending on the type of squirrel, the mating season will vary, as well as how many babies they have a litter.
What Does A Squirrel Nest Look Like Inside?
While I’ve NEVER had the opportunity to see the inside of a drey or den. I did some
research online and found an image of what the inside of a drey looks like.
You can find more information about squirrel nests on Why Evolution Is True.
As you can see, the squirrel has enough room to move around and it is lined with leaves to provide insulation during the cold.
Sleeping and nesting habits will vary according to the different types of squirrels. Most squirrels do not come out at night, because they are sleeping just like us. Grey squirrels will usually build a nest to hold one squirrel.
However, it’s not unusual to find two Eastern gray squirrels sleeping in the same nest during the winter or during the hibernation period.
Other Squirrel Facts You Maybe Be Interested In:
Should I Remove A Squirrel Nest From A Tree? Most people don’t want squirrels to build their homes in their backyard or on their property. However, before you try to knock down the nest, you need to remember that there might be babies in there.
If you want to remove the squirrel nest, I recommend contacting a professional to help you get rid of it. They will know what to do if there are babies inside.
When Do Squirrels Leave The Nest? These foraging critters go out looking for food every day. It’s not uncommon to find them looking for food in the early morning and evening hours.
Related References and Further Reading
West Virginia Wildlife Magazine – What’s The Clump of Leaves
Animal Sake – Sleeping and Nesting Habits of Squirrels