Do Squirrels Hibernate In Winter?


In the autumn, squirrels are present everywhere. They’ll be perched in trees, feeding at bird feeders, and darting around your yard. You might be wondering if squirrels hibernate in the winter after all that preparation.

The only kind of squirrels that hibernate in the winter are ground squirrels. Species of tree squirrel will enter a time of winter rest. For squirrels, both of these actions represent a form of dormancy. This enables them to conserve energy by becoming less active throughout the winter. Squirrels who are relaxing throughout the winter have two main priorities: eating and sleeping.

You may be wondering now what the distinction is between hibernation and winter rest. Where do squirrels go to accomplish all of this? Everything you need to know about what squirrels do in the winter will be covered in this tutorial.

All right? So let’s get going.

Hibernation and Winter Rest

Hibernation and Winter Rest

We must first understand the various animal survival strategies before talking about what squirrels do throughout the winter. Since they are similar but differ in a few little ways, these are frequently readily misunderstood.

What is hibernation?

What is hibernation?

Warm-blooded creatures go into hibernation to go dormant. Their breathing, temperature, and heart rate can all decrease as a result. As a result, the animal can conserve energy and live through the winter without having to look for food. A person may hibernate for a few days or perhaps months at a time.

Not only does hibernation include deep sleep. To conserve as much energy as possible, the animal’s body will reduce its functioning to the bare minimum.

The body will rely on its fat reserves during hibernation so the animal won’t have to wake up to eat. They do not need to dispose of any waste during this time because they are lacking in food and water.

Weather, seasons, and an animal’s level of energy reserves can all have an impact on how long it spends in hibernation.

What is Winter Rest?

Animals can also go into dormancy during the winter. The goal is for the animals to save energy, much as during hibernation. Winter rest, in contrast, is a far more gentle form of dormancy.

Animals will drastically restrict their activity throughout the winter by going into winter rest. They will still engage in their regular activities, just less frequently. The majority of their day will be spent resting and eating. During their winter slumber, it’s typical for some squirrels to sleep for a few days at a time.

A squirrel’s heart rate will somewhat decrease when it rests throughout the winter. However, their metabolism and body temperature won’t change. This means that if necessary, squirrels can swiftly become active.

Can Squirrels hibernate?

The physiological system that enables hibernation in ground squirrels allows them to do so. The body of the ground squirrel has the capacity to decrease vital processes like heart rate and urination. Because of this, ground squirrels can survive with little to no breathing and no eating, drinking, peeing, or pooping. Additionally, their bodies are made to withstand the loss of cells and muscle during this period.

The ability to hibernate is not shared by other squirrel species by ground squirrels. Other squirrel species cannot physically hibernate as a result. At some time, they would need to eat, drink, or urinate.

What do squirrels do in the winter?

Wintertime brings with it a lack of food supplies and unfavorable weather for animals.

Squirrels must make extensive preparations in order to ensure their survival during the winter.

During the winter, this primarily entails remaining warm, secure, and fed for oneself. These processes are triggered by seasonal variations in sunshine.

Let’s examine how they accomplish this.

1. Build nests

All year long, squirrels will make use of nests (dreys). However, these nests are stronger versions of their summer counterparts in the winter.

A squirrel will build a large nest from of twigs, leaves, moss, and bird feathers in order to prepare for the winter. As little heat as possible is released and the nest is kept well-insulated as a result.

Several dreys will be constructed by squirrels, and they will do so in various locations. This is a method of survival used to evade parasitic illness and predators. These nests are built by squirrels in the summer. In this manner, they can avoid wasting energy on constructing a new nest during the severe winter months when there are less materials available.

During the winter, several squirrel species would cooperate and share their drey. This enables them to conserve energy by exchanging body heat.

2. Collect supplies

The fact that there is less food available in the winter than there is in the summer is known to squirrels.

They decide to build a “food cache” during the summer, when food is easy to come by. These are like little larders that are close to their nests. Scattered hoarding is the act in question. Their hoard is dispersed over numerous sites thanks to their clever strategy. It prevents it from being consumed completely in case another animal comes upon it.

In order to trick potential thieves who are observing and ready to steal it later, squirrels have even been known to pretend to hide food.

Nuts, seeds, berries, and insets will all be hidden away by squirrels. Because they store well in their caches, nuts and seeds make up a large portion of a squirrel’s diet.

They just need to go a short distance to find a reliable food supply throughout the winter because there are small stores close to their trees. By doing this, you can avoid having to spend energy foraging when food is in short supply.

Squirrels have a keen sense of smell and are known to form fond memories. Both of these skills aid squirrels in moving their winter food stockpiles.

3. Fatten up

Squirrels will try to consume as much as they can during the summer. During this time, people want to gain as much fat as they can. For the winter, red squirrels add about 12% of their body weight. Grey squirrels can increase their weight by up to 25%.

A particular variety of brown fat is what squirrels store for the winter. This has two separate effects.

  1. Squirrels are better insulated and shielded from the cold thanks to it.
  2. When there aren’t enough food supplies, it might be used as energy.

Brown fat is really converted into heat for squirrels, keeping their body temperatures high.

4. Grow a coat

Squirrels will modify their fur in a few ways to assist them withstand the harsh winter conditions.

The biggest modification is that as winter approaches, their fur will thicken. Because of this, squirrels have two layers of fur: top fur and underfur. The underlayer retains heat and shields the skin from water and wind. By December, a squirrel’s winter coat is often finished.

The additional hairs frequently make the squirrel fur appear darker. For squirrels, having a darker coat is advantageous since it can aid in retaining any heat from the winter sun. Black squirrels, who can survive in colder climates, are the best examples of this.

During the winter, squirrels must be vigilant to guard against nest parasites. Squirrels that have these parasites may experience hair loss. The squirrels may become more susceptible to winter weather as a result.

5. Reduce Activity

The survival of the squirrel in the winter depends entirely on them slowing down as winter approaches. This is when they take a winter break.

In the summer, a squirrel will typically be active throughout the entire day. During the winter, this will shrink to a 4-5 hour activity period every day. During the winter months, squirrels will sleep for about 18 to 20 hours every day.

During these periods, the majority of the squirrels’ actions will be gathering food from their caches. Eating the food will use up the remaining active time.

A squirrel may spend many days napping in really hard weather. They rely on those vital brown fat reserves to provide them with the energy they require to endure this period of time without eating.

Each Squirrel is different

Since each species of squirrel is unique, they will all exhibit distinct behaviors, whether hibernating or taking a winter break. Although there are more than 200 different species of squirrels, let’s focus on what happens to common squirrels.

Ground Squirrels

The only real hibernating species of squirrel is the ground squirrel. During the winter, a ground squirrel will hibernate for 5-8 months.

The ground squirrel begins hibernating at the end of July and continues until September. They won’t leave their hiding place until late April (around March).

Ground squirrels will spend the winter months underground, deep in their burrows. Colonies of ground squirrels exist. This indicates that they hibernate nearby with a number of other ground squirrels.

Grey Squirrels

This is about as close as you can get to this inquisitive squirrel who came down the tree for a quick visit. Beautiful green and yellow spring bokeh in the background – a perfect place for your message.

During the winter, grey squirrels will rest. To shield themselves from the elements, they construct their nests in tree forks. Grey squirrels have also been observed to construct nests in exterior walls or attics.

During the summer, grey squirrels will try to store as much food as they can. This implies that they can return to their hiding places during the winter to gather an easy food source without having to go foraging.

Grey squirrels will snooze for extended amounts of time during chilly times. To conserve energy, one can even sleep for a few days at a time.

Red Squirrels

Grey squirrels and red squirrels both prepare for winter similarly. Making dreys and putting food away for later fall under this.

Red squirrels like to build their nests on large, evergreen trees, which is how they vary from grey squirrels. For a little extra security, reds frequently build their nests in tree cavities.

Additionally, red squirrels will sleep more frequently than grey squirrels. As a result, in the winter, grey squirrels are more prevalent than red ones.

Fox Squirrel

During the winter, fox squirrels don’t hibernate. Like grey and red squirrels, they will construct a cozy home and eat from food caches all winter long.

Fox squirrels spend the majority of their time alone. Nevertheless, during the winter breeding season, they might build a joint nest. During the winter, female fox squirrels will build their nests with their young.

Flying Squirrels

In the winter, flying squirrels don’t hibernate either. Compared to other squirrel species, their wintertime rest is a little different.

Flying squirrels enjoy spending their winters together building nests. This implies that they can reduce their temperature and metabolic rate to conserve energy.

The issue with living in a group is that food is needed more frequently. During the winter nights, flying squirrels will occasionally engage in one or two brief activity bursts. Only when the temperature falls below -4°F (-20°C) will this end.

Related Questions

Where do squirrels live in the winter?

Over the winter, squirrels will primarily stay in their dens. Ground squirrels live in tunnels, whereas tree squirrels build their nests in trees.

Squirrels that live in trees will seek for deep tree cavities and trunks to place their young in order to provide them with the most wind shelter possible.

Even outside of structures, attics, sheds, garages, and cavities may contain squirrel nests. Over the winter, this typically presents little of a problem. Squirrels that build nests in hoses, however, might be considered pests since they can harm both your indoor and external structures.

Do Squirrels Migrate?

Some tree squirrels have migrated in the past. Typically, this will only migrate a total of 35 to 50 miles. When squirrels move, it is to seek a better environment. This migration is probably due to environmental factors. Areas, where there has been agricultural loss or flooding, are frequent causes.

Modern squirrels are well acclimated to increasingly developed regions, thus they do not migrate annually for the season.

If they live in bad conditions, squirrels will have fewer young. After the breeding season is over, it’s likely that they will relocate to a more advantageous location.

Final thoughts

Over the winter, all squirrels will experience a period of hibernation. It is true hibernation for ground squirrels at this time. This is a time of rest throughout the winter for tree squirrels. Both of these actions help squirrels conserve energy and endure the harsh winter weather.

Squirrels must prepare in order to permit this to occur by:

  • gaining weight
  • having a winter coat grow
  • constructing a nest
  • putting food away

In the winter, this encourages the squirrel to hibernate or to engage in less daily activity. Each squirrel will exhibit wintering characteristics unique to their species.


Where do squirrels sleep in the winter?

branch nests

Do squirrels come out in the snow?

They show out well if there is snow cover, but they are typically harder to see on the ground than they are in a tree. Squirrels may decide not to leave their leafy nests and tree cavities in extremely cold weather. And your chances of finding one are slim if they’re not willing to come out.

Where do squirrels go at night to sleep?

At night, squirrels snooze in trees or subterranean tunnels. They spend the day playing, looking for, and burying food, and at night they retire to their nests to sleep. Tree squirrels spend the night in their caves or nests.

Where do squirrels sleep when it rains?

What do squirrels do during rainy seasons? Squirrels behave in this kind of weather as most animals would. Usually in hollow trees or leaf nests in the branches, they would look for shelter. Squirrels would be better protected from rain in hollow trees than in leaf nests, therefore choosing these would be safer.

Where do squirrels sleep at night?

At night, squirrels snooze in trees or subterranean tunnels. They spend the day playing, looking for, and burying food, and at night they retire to their nests to sleep. Tree squirrels spend the night in their caves or nests.


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Sarah Green

Wildlife and Nature Fan & Author