Why Do Squirrels Have Jerky Movements? (Twitch, Stop &..)

why do squirrels have jerky movements

A squirrel’s movements in the environment are characterized by abrupt stops and starts. From afar, this sight might be interesting to watch; it may even look strange. But these furry foragers have a good reason for this type of movement. So, why do squirrels have jerky movements? 

Why Do Squirrels Have Jerky Movements? Squirrels are prey, so if they see or hear anything suspicious, they’ll stop abruptly to avoid being caught, then start suddenly again so that predators can’t sneak upon them. They have keen eyesight and amazing hearing ability. Their extraordinary peripheral vision allows them to see what’s above or beside them without necessarily turning their heads. 

Why Are Squirrels So Twitchy?

Human beings aren’t the only ones that experience anxiety. Squirrels do, too, mostly because they live at the bottom of the food chain and hardly defend themselves.

Squirrels are so twitchy because they are prey for almost any animal out there, giving them a heightened keenness of their surroundings.

Squirrels will move back and forth like a child evading a dodge ball to throw off a predator. Even when they come face to face with a squirrel-like figure, they approach with caution. Some squirrels will fight each other because it’s a competition for the food around it – survival for the fittest. 

When it’s scared and detects any danger around it whatsoever, a squirrel’s first reaction is to go into ‘freeze’ mode. If it’s near trees, it will quickly climb up to safety. If the squirrel is on a tree, it will go round the tree trunk and lean against the bark tightly.

Other times, when squirrels are a distance away from trees or crossing a street, and they spot a predator, they will run away, darting from side to side until they can find safety upon a tree.

Unfortunately, lots of squirrels are hit by cars this way. 

Crossing a busy street makes them anxious, causing them to move back and forth because it’s their instinct to run in a zig-zag fashion to avoid danger. However, this instead puts them in grave danger of being killed. Here’s why many squirrels keep dying in yards.

Why Do Squirrels Move Like That?

why are squirrels so jumpy
Squirrels are jumpy and have jerky movements because it helps them survive.

Every day, squirrels are seen moving at high speed, running across parks, lawns, and streets and parks, darting this way and that. The sudden change in direction is a tactical and intentional strategy to confuse observers. Being a prey species, squirrels have many enemies and won’t take any chances.

Generally, squirrels have hyper movement; however, certain species are more restless than the others. The speed coupled with jittery movement limits predators like hawks and snakes from catching and killing them. They can also get away from cats and dogs. 

Squirrels are great leapers and can leap from branch to branch and tree to tree, causing hunters to miss. One species called the flying squirrel can jump so far that you would think it is flying.

This long leap is possible because it has wing-like flaps that exist down the sides of its body.

Squirrels have a sharp hearing with the ability to detect sound from a distance that is more than double the human hearing range. This quality is critical to their survival and plays a role in why they move like that.

When they hear warnings from fellow furry ones and sounds of incoming predators, they are forced to move tactfully.

Are Squirrels Fast?

Squirrels are fast. They can sprint faster than the average human being at 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour) and can run up a tree at 12 miles per hour.

The structure of a squirrel’s body plays a huge part in their supersonic speed. They have padded feet that help with cushioning their 20 ft. long jumps. They have double-jointed hind legs that enable them to climb trees quickly. 

These long and muscular hind legs work with their short front legs to make huge leaps. Their eyes are placed high on the sides of the head, giving them a clear vision of their surroundings without turning and allowing them to move fast.

Squirrels can change direction in an instant, and this helps them respond quickly to any challenges they face while running through the woods. This is because their claws can shift their weight to find the center of gravity.

Furthermore, their back ankles offer a wide range of motion, enabling them to sprint headfirst down trees.

Why Do Squirrels Stop Seconds After Running? 

Squirrels tend to interrupt their movement with several brief pauses when moving through the environment. This may seem disadvantageous because it takes them a long time to get where they are going, and it’s probably tiring as well, but there are valid reasons and benefits to this stopping seconds after running.

Stopping running helps squirrels to listen to their surrounding without the sound of rustling leaves and twigs. This helps to detect predators and reduce the likelihood of being attacked. 

Just like a soldier hides from their enemy by moving and stopping and camouflages in their background, squirrels do the same. Squirrels stop seconds after running to stay safe. Their world is out in the open and dangerous. 

Squirrels are important prey for several predators. They camouflage using their protective coloration that can easily blend into their background. However, predators will spot squirrels as soon as they move. 

Most predators aim for moving prey because they can easily detect and recognize the target. Interestingly, the biggest threat to a squirrel’s life is in the air and not on the ground. A hawk or eagle will more likely attack a squirrel than a badger, dog, or snake. 

So when a squirrel runs fast and stops suddenly, a hawk or eagle cannot fly that fast to kill them. Squirrels will generally freeze and stay motionless as a defense mechanism when they detect a predator, therefore, blend into the background. The predator won’t be able to see them, increasing the squirrels’ survival in the wild.

A squirrel’s life is busy. They are always leaving their homes and on the move looking for food, storing it, and digging it up from wherever they stashed it. This behavior of stopping after running improves their endurance. Because they move at high speeds, they can increase their overall distance by pausing every once in a while.


If you’ve ever wondered why squirrels have jerky movements, now you know. Squirrels are small prey animals that lack any natural defense against predators like hawks and snakes. They must always be aware and alert about their surroundings.

These movements keep them from attracting the attention of predators that are consistently on the lookout for them. So, they move, then stop to check if there’s another animal that could eat them, then they move some more, check again, and the cycle continues.

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