What Do Squirrel Nests Look Like | Fascinating Insights into Their Structure

Written by Thomas Matthews

Squirrels are very smart creatures, and they can build nests on trees. These nests or dens serve as their home, especially for their young. But sometimes, allowing them to build nests near your property can give you headaches. The presence of their nests may lead to a severe infestation if you ignore them.

What do squirrel nests look like? Squirrel nests look like hollow spheres or a bigger bird’s nest and are about one foot wide. To protect their babies from wind, rain, and snow, squirrels construct these spherical nests in tree cavities, enlarged woodpecker holes, or huge tree branches. Entry and exit points are common. 

Squirrel nests may be mistaken for a bird’s nest, especially if they are on a tall tree. The nests don’t cause problems themselves, but it is a clear sign there are squirrels around. But before taking any action, you should know to identify them correctly. This guide has everything you need to know about squirrel nests.

Types of Squirrel Nests

Types of Squirrel Nests

In terms of basic body forms, there are three types of squirrels – tree squirrels, ground squirrels, and flying squirrels. Also called dreys, squirrel nests vary depending on the type of squirrel and the materials used.

Generally speaking, the two main types of squirrel nests are tree cavity nests and leaf nests.

As the name implies, tree cavity nests are located in tree holes and are the most common. This type of squirrel nest is ideal during the breeding season and winter.

On the other hand, leaf nests are primarily used in the summer. Subterranean nests, which are very rare, are commonly found under tree roots and dead logs.

How Is a Squirrel Leaf Nest Constructed?

How Is a Squirrel Leaf Nest Constructed

The construction of a squirrel leaf nest starts with finding the best location and the collection of materials. Once everything is prepared, squirrels will weave the inner surface of the nest, which is mostly leaves and twigs.

Then, they will construct the outer layer, 6-8 inches in diameter, depending on the species.

How Long Does It Take a Squirrel to Build a Nest?

Typically, squirrels can build a nest in just one day. However, it is the preparation that makes these nests longer to make.

First, they have to find a tree that is comfortable for their babies, safe from predators, and near their food source. Second, squirrels have to harvest the materials such as moss, twigs, and leaves.

Do Squirrels Make Nests in Trees?

Do Squirrels Make Nests in Trees

Most squirrels make nests in trees except for ground squirrels. Tree squirrels such as Eastern gray squirrels, Eastern fox squirrels, and red squirrels live in trees.

Flying squirrels, which are a special kind of tree squirrels, also build nests in trees. They may also enter houses and will make nests in attics.

Do Squirrels Burrow or Nest in Trees?

Do Squirrels Burrow or Nest in Trees

Depending on the species, squirrels may nest in trees or dig underground. As the name implies, ground squirrels create a burrow system, which is usually about 4 inches wide, 5-30 feet long, and can be up to 6 feet deep.

As mentioned above, tree squirrels (such as Eastern gray squirrels) and flying squirrels live in trees.

Meanwhile, Northern and Southern flying squirrels use both tree cavity nests and leaf nests. Interestingly, they also sometimes use subterranean nests, which is somehow similar to a burrow system that ground squirrels use.

Nonetheless, most squirrels that are nesting in trees prefer tree cavities over big tree branches.

What Are Squirrel Nests Made Of?

Dreys are made of several layers of various materials and have a complex construction. For the interior part, squirrels use moss, grass, shredded bark, pine needles, and damp leaves, which serve as insulators.

For the outer shell, squirrels use twigs, vines, and leaves to help shed water so that the nest is dry.

What Time of Year Do Squirrels Build Nests?

Most squirrels build their nests during summer or early fall since this is also their first breeding season. Tree squirrels have two mating periods – from late May to early July and in late December or early January, the following year.

On the other hand, flying squirrels and ground squirrels usually mate only during summer.

Do Squirrels Have Multiple Nests?

Squirrels have multiple nests and may use all of them at the same time. These rodents usually construct 2 to 3 nests that are somehow near each other.

In most cases, these so-called “squirrel vacation homes” are used either by an adult couple, a male adult, or a mother squirrel taking care of her young.

Depending on the species, the season of the year, and the availability of food, squirrels have a home range between 1 and 100 acres. Fox squirrels usually have a home range of 10-40 acres.

Mother squirrels will move to another nest with their babies if there are predators nearby or if the nest is being infested by fleas.

Why Do Squirrels Build Nests?

To survive the winter, squirrels build nests. They also use them to explore their surroundings and take care of their young. 

The majority of squirrels really construct numerous separate dreys in the vicinity of their domain. These nests will be near their food reserves or other exceptionally abundant food sources. It’s possible that different nests have distinct functions.

By protecting them from chilly gusts, tree nests enable squirrels to endure the winter. The majority of squirrels will hibernate in a nest that is extremely sturdy and is typically constructed within existing cover. Likewise, nests designed to raise young will be especially well-hidden or safeguarded from potential predators.

Why Are Squirrels Building Nests Near You?

Squirrels choose to establish their houses adjacent to areas where they may feel safe, get food and supplies for their dwellings, and move around with ease. A few of the many different items that squirrels eat include nuts, seeds, weeds, grasses, shrubs, roots, fungi, flowers, and fruits. Additionally, they’ll break into your garden or garbage as soon as they get the chance.

In addition to having access to food, squirrels choose yards that are straightforward to enter and escape. They are more likely to build in areas that are shaded by forests or have gardens with climbable plants. Squirrels may move around in the vegetation while also being protected from predators. 

When rearing their young, mother squirrels are highly dependent on discovering covert sites to build their nests. If your yard provides food and hiding spots for squirrels, they may think about settling there.

Where Do Squirrels Keep Their Babies?

Where Do Squirrels Keep Their Babies

Mother squirrels keep their babies in the nest or den up in a tree until they are independent. This is why you don’t usually see baby squirrels too often.

Most squirrel species are diurnal creatures, which means that they are most active during the day. At some point, mothers will leave their kits for a while to search for food.

Where Do Squirrels Nest?

Squirrels often build their homes, whether it’s a den or a dray, in trees, usually in the fork or limb of a tree, about 30 feet for protection. In the vacant hollows of trees, squirrels will also construct more intricate tree dens, which adds additional warmth and protection, particularly during the winter.

You might even come across a squirrel nest on the ground, depending on the species of squirrel. One kind of squirrel known to dig tunnels on the ground as opposed to in trees, like flying squirrels or American red squirrels, is the ground squirrel. 

How Do Squirrels Choose Where to Build Their Nests?

A squirrel must be seeking out as many trustworthy food sources as possible if you spot a nest nearby. They’ll create a “home range” close to food supplies and will build nests there in favorable locations.

Squirrels are constantly moving while they’re not eating or sleeping. Most squirrels choose to construct their homes in forested locations where they can maintain their high mobility. They can cover more land and defend themselves from predators more successfully if they can move from tree to tree with ease. Squirrels are more likely to live in a region if it is accessible and convenient for them to move around.

Do Squirrels Come Back to the Same Nest?

Do Squirrels Come Back to the Same Nest

Most adult squirrels come back to the same nest as long as it is still safe for them. Females usually reuse the same nest once they are about to give birth again.

This is also why they construct nests only once a year. Nonetheless, juvenile squirrels never return to their nests and will make a new one instead.

How Long Do Squirrels Stay In One Nest?

The length of stay of squirrels in their nest depends on the season of the year and the condition of the nest. In general, squirrels leave their nests immediately if they are no longer safe.

Typically, a squirrel couple will stay in one nest until the female gets pregnant and will give birth, which is usually 38-46 days after mating.

Male squirrels leave their female partners once they give birth and will live in a separate nest, which is either in the same tree or a nearby tree.

During winter, squirrels may stay in leaf nests for a few days only and will move to a tree cavity nest. But if it is too cold for them, they will enter houses and will nest in attics. 

What Month Do Baby Squirrels Leave the Nest?

What Month Do Baby Squirrels Leave the Nest

In general, baby squirrels stay with their mothers until they are old enough to survive alone. They usually leave the nests once they are 2-3 months old.

Since tree squirrels give birth twice a year, their first batch of offspring will leave the nest in April or May, while the second batch will leave most likely in September.

How Do You Find a Squirrel Nest on Trees?

How Do You Find a Squirrel Nest on Trees

Finding a squirrel nest on trees is easy, especially during late fall to early spring when leaves are falling off. Squirrels don’t hibernate and are usually inside their nest during colder months.

They love to build their nests in deciduous trees such as elms, maples, oaks, and walnuts. Here are some tips on how to find a squirrel nest:

  • Look for trees where there are squirrels. Their nests could be present, too.
  • Check the trees for cavities with nests or leaf nests. If necessary, use binoculars.
  • To check if there is a squirrel inside the nest, carefully poke it with a long pole.
  • If the nest is empty, prepare all the necessary tools for removing the nest.

Should I Remove Squirrel’s Nest From a Tree?

You should not remove a squirrel’s nest unless the animals are giving you trouble. If the nest is on a tree that is far away from your property, leave it alone.

If the tree is yours and the squirrels are chewing the branches and bark or trying to enter your house, then you should remove their nests as soon as possible.

Note, however, that it is illegal to remove a squirrel’s nest in most US states if the nest has baby squirrels and the mother is not present. Kits are born blind and helpless, and they will die without their mother.

Therefore, you should wait for a few weeks until the baby squirrels can already leave the nest with their mother. 

How Do You Get a Squirrel’s Nest Out of a Tree?

How Do You Get a Squirrel’s Nest Out of a Tree

Removing a squirrel’s nest can be a bit challenging since its location is high in trees. Again, removing a nest with baby squirrels is considered illegal.

This is why you should remove them during cold months when squirrels are not breeding. Here are the steps on how to remove a squirrel’s nest from a tree:

  1. Since debris is likely to fall off the tree, wear a face shield and other protective gear. 
  1. You will need a prong cultivator or a garden hoe such as DeWit 3-Tine Cultivator with Drop Grip Handle .
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  1. You will also need at least two 8-foot-long PVC pipes. 
  1. Connect the PVC pipes and the garden hoe on one end. The total length should be long enough to reach the squirrel’s nest.
  1. Poke the squirrel nest carefully to scare the adult squirrels that could be inside the nest.
  1. Once the squirrels leave the nest, continue poking the nest until it is destroyed and all the materials fall to the ground.
  1. If you feel that you will be hurting the squirrels, contact a professional wildlife removal service or a tree service company.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do Humans Benefit from Squirrels?

Many homeowners consider squirrels are nuisances and garden pests. However, these rodents also play a very important role in our forest ecosystems.

Squirrels eat a wide variety of nuts and seeds and bury them. But most of the time, they forget where they hide them, and the seeds will eventually grow into plants.

Squirrels are generally omnivores and may eat mice if they are very hungry. They eat small insects, worms, and other small garden pests, as well as leftover foods, which means they help us eliminate food waste.

Squirrels are also very cute animals with funny behaviors, and their photos and videos make us smile.

Is It Good to Have Squirrels in the Garden?

It is not good to have squirrels in your garden. Despite being great seed planters, these cute rodents damage immature and growing seedlings and plants.

They also eat flowers and vegetables if there is a shortage of food. To build their nests, squirrels strip off or gnaw tree bark, twigs, and limbs.

Related: How to Keep Squirrels Out of Garden? | The Effective Guide

Are Squirrels Bad for Your Yard?

Squirrels are bad for your yard. Aside from causing damage to gardens, these tree-dwellers dig tiny holes in the soil to bury seeds, especially in the fall. They store their food underground in preparation for winter.

Fortunately, the damage is not usually severe. However, they also chew wooden lawn furniture.

Is It Good to Have Squirrels at Home?

It is not good to have squirrels at home. Most squirrels can easily enter houses, especially if there is a tree near the roof.

Once they are inside, they will chew electrical wirings, tear up insulations, and will damage your food. 

But worst of all, tree squirrels carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans. This includes tularemia, typhus, plaque, and ringworm.

Squirrel feces and urine can also cause Leptospirosis and Salmonella through inhalation of huge amounts and consumption of food and water that is contaminated by infected rodents.

What Happens if You Move a Squirrel Nest?

Squirrel nests on trees are very fragile, so it’s quite impossible to move them without destroying them. These nests are also very high, which makes them more difficult to get without any damage.

Besides, it’s not practical to move them since there are other nests nearby. Squirrels can also easily make a new one.

Also, relocating a squirrel nest does not necessarily mean you are also getting rid of squirrels for good. Therefore, it’s only a waste of time.

These mammals are very persistent and will likely return in the next breeding season. If they don’t, a new batch of squirrels will discover your location and will move in to build nests.

List of Sources

Baldwin, R. A. (2016). Tree Squirrels. University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources.
Saunders, D. A. (1988). Southern Flying Squirrel. State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
Quinn, N. M., Dimson, M. J., Baldwin, R. A. (2018). Ground Squirrel. University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources.
Squirrel Damage on Trees and Shrubs. (2021). University of Maryland Extension.
Pierce, R. A. II. (2012). Tree Squirrels: Managing Habitat and Controlling Damage. University of Missouri.

Thomas Matthews
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