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What Do Squirrel Nests Look Like & How Do They Build Them?

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The appearance and location of a squirrel nest depend on the type of squirrel. Tree squirrels and flying squirrels build their nests between tree branches, in tree cavities, roof eaves, and attics. Ground squirrels nest in their underground burrows.

Squirrels, like birds, build nests. This is where they live, store food, and raise their young.

But what does a squirrel nest look like and what makes their nests unique? 

In this article, we answer your questions about squirrels’ nests. 

What Is a Squirrel Nest Called? 

Most squirrel nests are called dreys and are located in trees. Squirrels also nest in tree cavities, known as squirrel dens. Ground squirrels build nests in the ground, called burrows. 

Tree squirrels and flying squirrels are tree dwellers and build their nests between the branches of trees. These nests are called dreys. 

In winter, tree squirrels and flying squirrels move into tree cavities. These are either natural tree holes or cavities made and abandoned by woodpeckers. Squirrels’ nests built inside tree cavities are called dens.

Ground squirrels, as the name suggests, build their nests in the ground. They dig holes in which they live. These nests are called burrows.

What Is a Squirrel Nest Called
Nesting placeName
Between the branches in treesDrays
In tree cavitiesDens
In the groundBurrows
In houses, roof eaves, or atticsNests, drays, or dens, depending on the location and layout of the nest.

What Does a Squirrel Nest Look Like? 

Tree squirrels and flying squirrels’ nests are small, round bulbs and look like large birds nests. They often look haphazard in design, but these messy-looking nests are well-built and sturdy.

Tree squirrels (like eastern gray squirrels) build nests as wide as two feet. The size depends on the space between the tree branch that supports it. 

The construction looks slapdash, but they are sturdy. Gray squirrels build their nests at least 20 feet above the ground in a tree that provides the squirrel with food, like an oak, red maple, or beech tree.[7] 

Squirrel NestDescription
MaterialTwigs, leaves, bark, vines, and moss.
Height20 feet or more into the air
WidthSix to eight inches on average, but up to two feet.
ShapeRound

How Big Are Squirrel Nests?

Squirrel nests vary in size, but average around six to eight inches in diameter. Some squirrels build nests as large as two feet wide. This depends on the species and the space needed.

Inside a Squirrel’s Nest

The inside of a squirrel’s nest is warm and waterproof. They are built with a collection of twigs, bark, and moss to insulate the nest to keep their kits and themselves warm.

Considering their nests are built from natural materials, it’s amazing that squirrels can build waterproof nests.

Tree squirrels and flying squirrels make their nests waterproof by tightly interweaving twigs as the outer layer and lining their nests with leaves, soft bark, and moss. 

For softness, squirrels add grass, feathers, and fur. 

Inside a Squirrel’s Nest
Image Source

Where Do Squirrels Nest? 

Tree squirrels and flying squirrels build their nests between the branches of trees, inside tree cavities, or in wooden boxes, attics, and roof eaves. Ground squirrels nest in the ground in burrows. 

There are more than 200 types of squirrels, and many of them nest in different ways. These species are split into three types: flying, tree, and ground squirrels. 

Squirrels of the same type generally nest in the same places.

Type of SquirrelNesting Place
Tree squirrelsDrays and dens in trees, tree cavities, attics, or roof eaves.
Flying squirrelsDrays and dens in trees, tree cavities, attics, or roof eaves.
Ground squirrelsBurrows in the ground.

Squirrel Nests in Trees 

Squirrels are master nest builders. They weave twigs to create a supportive outer layer and then line the inside with leaves, moss, fur, and feathers. 

The finished product is sturdy, warm, and comfortable. 

It takes squirrels a few days of collecting supplies and building, but a well-built nest is worth the work. Their nests provide safety, as they are waterproof and last for months.[1]

Squirrel Nests in Tree Cavities 

Squirrel Nests in Tree Cavities

Tree squirrels and flying squirrels prefer nesting in tree cavities during the winter. These cavities can be natural or abandoned woodpecker holes. Squirrels fill the cavity, or den, with food and sometimes line them with insulation.

Squirrel Nests in Roof Eaves and Attics 

Tree squirrels and flying squirrels are attracted to the shelter and warmth offered by attics and roof eaves, especially in the winter. 

Attics and roof eaves make lovely dens for squirrels but are problematic for homeowners. 

Nocturnal flying squirrels make noises in roof eaves and attics, keeping homeowners up at night. More worrying is the damage the squirrels can cause. Squirrels are known to rip into insulation and gnaw through electrical wires. This can cause electrical fires.[2] 

Ground Squirrels Nest in Burrows

Ground squirrels, like thirteen-lined squirrels, and chipmunks nest in burrows. Underground burrows offer ground squirrels insulation, helping keep them warm in cooler climates. 

Ground squirrels make nests within their burrows with grass. 

How To Prevent Squirrels From Nesting In Attics

You can prevent squirrel houseguests by following these tips:

  1. Block up all possible access points and holes to your home’s roof and attic. 
  2. Prune overhanging tree branches to eliminate squirrels’ route to your roof.  
  3. Don’t feed the squirrels in your garden. 

Why Do Squirrels Build Nests?

Tree squirrels and flying squirrels build nests in the trees or tree cavities for shelter and safety. Their nest serves as a place to sleep and give birth to their young. Ground squirrels’ nests in underground burrows are a place to sleep, hibernate, mate, evade predators, and store food. 

Wild prey animals always look for safety, either from predators or the weather. The same goes for squirrels.

Squirrels nest for the following reasons:

  • Hide from predators
  • Sleep 
  • Raise their squirrel kits
  • Be protected from the elements
  • Hibernate (ground squirrels only)

Let’s take a closer look at how tree squirrels, flying squirrels, and ground squirrels use their nests. 

Why Do Squirrels Build Nests

How Tree Squirrels Use Nests 

Tree-dwelling squirrels (such as gray squirrels) build leaf nests in tree canopies, dens within tree cavities, and inside artificial den sites such as wooden boxes. They occasionally nest in roof eaves or attics. [3] 

Female tree squirrels use their drays or dens to raise their young.

Gray squirrels and red squirrels also build platform-type nests that they use as resting spots during the day. These light structures are particularly utilized in summer when these squirrels want to relax in the shade of the trees but don’t want to be cooped up.

How Ground Squirrels Use Nests 

Ground squirrels use their nests to store food, raise their young, and hibernate for up to 7 months in their underground burrows. 

Nesting in underground burrows helps insulate ground squirrels from cold temperatures.

A good nest contributes to a ground squirrel’s ability to thrive during its reproduction season. This is because better-insulated nests reduce loss of body heat, meaning they use fewer calories to heat their body up.[4] 

How Flying Squirrels Use Nests 

Flying squirrels are nocturnal and sleep during the day in their drays or dens, and they often live in communal nests. This is opposite to many species of tree squirrels and ground squirrels that nest alone.

A northern flying squirrel can live with up to 8 other flying squirrels. The southern flying squirrel nests with up to 20 flying squirrels warm in winter. [5] 

In spring and summer, flying squirrels use their nests to raise their infants or “kits”. Female Southern flying squirrel will move her kits from one nest to another if predators have found their nest.[6] 

How Do Squirrels Make Nests?

All squirrels build their nests using materials found around them, like twigs, leaves, grass, moss, and soft bark. 

Squirrels collect twigs, leaves, and grass, using their paws to pick up items and their mouths to carry them back to their nest site.

Their exact method of building the nest depends on the species and type of squirrel.

How Do Squirrels Make Nests

How Do Tree Squirrels Build Nests?

Tree squirrels build their nests starting with an outer framework of interwoven leaves and twigs. 

They build their framework with the layout in mind, as a nest consists of the following elements:

  • The framework
  • A base layer
  • A layer of insulation
  • An escape exit

After building the framework, the squirrel builds a spherical frame of twigs and vines around the baseline with more twigs, leaves, and moss. The next layer includes shredded soft bark, grass, and leaves and is often finished with fur and feathers to make it cozy. 

The clever squirrel builds in a back door or an escape hatch opposite the entrance so it can evade any visiting predators. [7] 

A drey can take a few days to complete, but a squirrel can also continue to add to the drey over time. A large drey is not always older than a smaller one. The size of a tree squirrel’s nest depends on the space and support provided by the tree branches.[3] 

Red Squirrel Nest

American red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) build their nests within 98 feet of cone caches in coniferous forests. They build nests at 6,6 feet to about 65 feet high.

They prefer natural cavities but will build leaf nests in the trees. When choosing a tree to nest in, a red squirrel considers the surrounding canopies that can be used as escape routes. 

They build their nests with grass, moss, and shredded bark and add warm comfort with feathers and fur. [7]

Red squirrels are also known to build the occasional underground nest.

How Do Flying Squirrels Build Nests?

Flying squirrels build summer nests similar to tree squirrels. In winter, they den together in tree cavities, like those left by woodpeckers.[8] 

How Do Flying Squirrels Build Nests
Image Source

How Do Ground Squirrels Build Nests?

Ground squirrels build their underground nests primarily with grass. 

A study on European ground squirrels found that they prefer using fresh grass over dry grass to build their nests. 

Researchers were intrigued as they assumed dry grass would be warmer and that the water content of the fresh grass would reduce insulation. However, when comparing nests built with fresh grass and dry grass, the fresh grass nests were found to offer better insulation.[9] 

FAQs

Why Do Squirrels Build Nests?

Squirrels build nests so that they have a place to shelter, rest sleep, evade predators, and give birth to and raise their young. Ground squirrels build their underground nests to insulate the squirrels from the cold, store food, and allow them to hibernate safely through the winter months. 

How Many Squirrels Live In a Nest?

Tree squirrels live alone. Only the female shares a nest with her infants. Some ground squirrels share a burrow network, but many sleep alone in individual chambers. Flying squirrels share nests with their scurry. Southern flying squirrels can nest with up to 20 other flying squirrels in winter. Northern flying squirrels live in a nest of 8 squirrels. 

What Are Squirrel Nests Made Of?

Squirrels use a variety of building materials from trees and plants, including sticks, twigs, leaves, pine needles, grass, moss, bark, and more.

About Monique Warner

Monique is an avid dog lover who grew up with dogs, cats, and budgies as pets. She has worked as a pet sitter and dog walker. With her passion for dogs and pets alike, she writes articles with the intention of helping pet owners solve their biggest struggles.

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