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How and Where Do Squirrels Sleep? (Squirrel Sleeping Habits)

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Where a squirrel sleeps depends on the type of squirrel. Tree squirrels and flying squirrels sleep in nests between branches in trees or tree hollows. Ground squirrels sleep in underground burrows. 

There are three types of squirrels: tree, flying, and ground. Each type has its own sleeping habits.

Tree squirrels and flying squirrels build their nests high in the trees. In summer, they build nests between branches, and in winter, they set up their dens in tree hollows. 

Tree squirrels and flying squirrels can also take residence in the eaves of roofs or attics.

Ground squirrels sleep in underground ground burrows. 

So, where does your resident garden squirrel sleep? And what can you do to keep them from making your attic their prime residence? 

In this article, we answer these questions and explore the difference between sleeping and hibernating. 

Where Do Tree Squirrels Sleep?

Tree squirrels sleep in nests between tree branches and within tree hollows in winter. Tree squirrels can also move into roof eaves and attics.

Tree squirrels, as the name suggests, reside in trees. They make nests among the branches where they rest and nurture their young.

Here are some of the common tree squirrels:

  • Eastern gray squirrels 
  • American red squirrels 
  • Fox squirrels 

Here is how you can tell if the squirrels in your garden are tree squirrels:

  • They retreat to the trees when scared.
  • They have fluffy, long tails.
  • They are only seen during the day. 

Tree squirrels sleep in three types of homes:

  1. Drays (nests). 
  2. Dens (nests inside tree hollows). 
  3. Roofs eaves and attics. 

1. Drays

Squirrel Sleeping on Dray
Image Source

Squirrels are master builders when it comes to constructing nests, also known as a dray. The outer layer is constructed by interweaving twigs. The inside is lined with leaves, moss, fur, and feathers.  

It takes a few days for tree squirrels to construct their nest, but a well-built dray is waterproof and lasts for months.[1]

2. Dens

Squirrel Sleeping on Den
Image Source

In winter, particularly in cold regions, gray squirrels look for tree hollows to nest in. These are also called dens. These tree hollows are often abandoned woodpecker holes.

The shelter and insulation make tree hollows perfect for winter. These dens are where pregnant female gray squirrels nest alone and raise their kittens (infants).[2]

3. Roof Eaves And Attics

The warmth of an attic or roof eaves makes for great winter dens for tree squirrels and flying squirrels.

It’s not ideal for homeowners as squirrels can cause damage to a home by ripping up insulation and gnawing through electrical wires. Squirrels are known to cause electrical fires this way. 

To prevent squirrels from moving in, block all access points and holes to your roof and attic and trim overhanging branches of trees. 

Where Do Eastern Gray Squirrels Sleep?

In summer and fall, Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) build and sleep in nests in trees called drays. In winter, they sleep in dens or inside roof eaves and attics. 

A dray is twelve by sixteen inches in size. They are commonly used during the summer months.

Where Do Eastern Gray Squirrels Sleep
Image Source

Where Do Red Squirrels Sleep?

American red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) nest in conifer trees similarly to gray squirrels. One difference is that they occasionally nest in holes closer to the ground, near the base of trees.[3]

Where Do Flying Squirrels Sleep?

Southern and northern flying squirrels are nocturnal and sleep in drays during the day. They are also known to move into roof eaves and attics. 

Flying squirrels are characterized by their ability to glide through the air. They do this by spreading their arms and legs, spreading out a layer of skin.

Flying squirrels in North America include the following:

●     Southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys volans) 

●     Northern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus)

Here is how to tell if the squirrels in your garden are flying squirrels: 

  • They have large round black eyes. 
  • They have a flap of loose skin extending from the wrist to the ankle on each side to help them glide. 
  • They only come out at night.  

Where Do Southern Flying Squirrels Sleep?

Southern flying squirrels construct drays with twigs and line them with leaves, moss, feathers, and fur.  Southern flying squirrels also live in tree hollows, buildings, and bird boxes.[4]

They nest on their own or as a family in summer. In colder regions, they will build communal nests that will be shared between 10 and 20 others.[5]

Southern Flying Squirrels
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Where Do Northern Flying Squirrels Sleep?

Northern flying squirrels live in conifer forests and add conifer needles to their nests.[6]

They nest in conifers and build their nests from one or eighteen meters above the ground. They can live in groups of up to eight in a communal nest.

Where Do Ground Squirrels Sleep?

Ground squirrels sleep in underground burrows. They also use these to store food, give birth to their young, and hide from danger. 

Ground squirrels are unique from tree squirrels and flying squirrels in that they primarily live on the ground. 

Here’s how to identify ground squirrels:

  • They have short legs and tails. 
  • They scurry into holes in the ground (burrows) when frightened 
  • They are only seen during the day. 

Ground squirrels’ underground burrows can be single tunnels or have branches. In cold regions, some ground squirrels hibernate in underground burrows. 

Ground Squirrels Overview

Where Do California Ground Squirrels Sleep?

California ground squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi) dig burrow systems two to three feet underground. The burrows are about four inches in diameter and range between five and thirty feet in length.

Burrows can be single tunnels or complex branching systems. They may be occupied by a single squirrel or occupied by many. 

California ground squirrels sleep in their burrows, but their activity levels vary depending on the season:

  • During winter, these ground squirrels can hibernate in their burrows. 
  • During the hottest summer days, they spend more time resting in their burrows in a period known as estivation. 

During hibernation and estivation, California ground squirrels plug the holes near their nest with soil. [7]

Where Do Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels Sleep?

Thirteen-lined ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus) sleep in nests built in their underground burrows. 

They dig shallow emergency burrows and deeper underground burrows for sleeping, nesting, and hibernating. [8] 

Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrels
Image Source

When Do Squirrels Sleep?

Tree squirrels and ground squirrels sleep at night. Flying squirrels are nocturnal and sleep during the day. Squirrels sleep more over winter and some ground squirrels hibernate for months. 

Tree squirrels are diurnal and can sleep from sunset until sunrise in spring, summer, and autumn. Although they do not hibernate, they spend more time in their dens during winter.

In the colder northern regions, tree squirrels only come out of their dens in the middle of the day in winter, when it is warmest.

Ground squirrels are also diurnal and sleep at night. In winter, many ground squirrels in cold regions will go into hibernation.

Flying squirrels are nocturnal and sleep from dawn to dusk. In winter, they spend more time in their dens and nests and come out just after dusk and just before dawn.

When the weather is at its coldest, flying squirrels can stay in their dens or drays for a few days at a time.

Related: Are Squirrels Nocturnal? When Are Squirrels Most Active?

When Do Squirrels Sleep

Where Do Squirrels Sleep In The Winter? 

In winter, tree squirrels and flying squirrels sleep in dens in tree hollows or in roof eaves, attics, or any abandoned built structure. In cold regions, many ground squirrels will hibernate in their underground burrows. 

A tree hollow offers tree squirrels extra insulation from the winter weather, which is why dens are preferred over drays in winter. 

In urban and suburban areas, it is common for tree squirrels and flying squirrels to move into available attics or roof eaves and build their winter dens there. This is often when wildlife pest control services are called in. 

If you have squirrels in your home, please ensure that they are safely trapped and relocated. Some squirrels, like the Northern flying squirrel, are endangered and should not be killed unnecessarily. [9] 

Once the squirrels have been removed, take action to make sure they don’t get back in by blocking all possible entries and holes. your roof and attic and trim overhanging branches of trees.

Ground squirrels sleep in underground burrows. Ground squirrels that live in cold climates hibernate throughout winter. 

Related: List of Animals That Hibernate

Where Do Squirrels Sleep In The Winter

The Difference Between Sleep and Hibernation In Squirrels

During hibernation, squirrels’ heart rate, breathing, and body temperature drops drastically. It means the squirrels use far less energy than they do sleeping and are therefore able to hibernate for weeks on end without eating. 

The only squirrels that hibernate are ground squirrels that live in cold regions. 

Hibernating squirrels include:

  • Arctic ground squirrel
  • Thirteen-lined ground squirrel
  • California ground squirrel 

Hibernating squirrels can survive for weeks without eating and drinking because they use far less energy than they do when sleeping.[10] 

A ground squirrel’s heart rate and breathing slow down when they sleep, but not as much as it slows down during the hibernation state known as torpor. A ground squirrel’s body temperature also drops drastically when hibernation.[11]

The Longest Hibernating Squirrel: Arctic Ground Squirrel

As an example, consider the Arctic ground squirrel. It hibernates for eight months. It holds the record of hibernating longer and deeper than any known animal.[12]

During hibernation, the arctic ground squirrel’s heart rate drops from 300 beats per minute to three or four beats per minute. It breathes once every few minutes and its body temperature drops from 98 degrees Fahrenheit[13]  to below freezing. 

This dramatic drop in heart rate, breathing, and body temperature allows their metabolic rate to drop by 90%.[14] 

Sleeping vs. Hibernating Sleeping Arctic Ground SquirrelHibernating Arctic Ground Squirrel
Heart RateUp to 300 beats per minute3- 4 beats per minute
Breathing RateEvery few secondsOne breathe every few minutes
Body TemperatureAbout 98 degrees FahrenheitBelow freezing

FAQs

Do Squirrels Live in Trees?

Yes, tree squirrels and flying squirrels build their nests (drays) between tree branches and dens in the hollows of trees. They are also known to move into attics and roof eaves if they have access. Ground squirrels do not live in trees.

Do Squirrels Live Underground?

Yes, ground squirrels, like the thirteen-lined ground squirrel and the California ground squirrel, rest, sleep and hibernate in underground burrows.

What Do Squirrels Do at Night?

Tree squirrels, like gray squirrels and red squirrels, and ground squirrels, like California ground squirrels, are diurnal and sleep at night. Flying squirrels are nocturnal and will hunt, forage and play at night. 

Do Squirrels Sleep Together? 

Some squirrels sleep alone, as families, or with others in communal nests. In winter, Southern flying squirrels build communal nests that will be shared between 10 and 20 others squirrels. Northern flying squirrels sleep in groups of up to eight in a communal nest.

Do Squirrels Roam at Night?

Flying squirrels, like Southern and northern flying squirrels, will roam at night in search of food. This is because flying squirrels are nocturnal. Tree squirrels, like gray squirrels, fox squirrels, and red squirrels, are diurnal and are only active during the day.

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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