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Where Do Squirrels Spend the Winter?

By Chris Williams on December 10, 2014.

squirrel nest sites in treeIn Massachusetts and New Hampshire, our squirrels do not hibernate in the winter; they remain active except in the most severe weather. A conscientious squirrel will also have stored lots of nuts and other food during the fall which she will utilize during winter months.

Gray squirrels nest primarily in three different types of locations: (1) leaf nests in trees, (2) den nests in tree holes, and (3) nests in structures, mainly in attics and other voids.

Tree Holes Provide Good Winter Protection

Leaf nests are constructed mostly as temporary summer nests. You can imagine that a loose ball of leaves swaying high up in a tree would not be a very cozy place to spend a cold, snowy winter. On the other hand, if you’re a squirrel and you “own” a tree hole, you are the envy of all the other squirrels in the neighborhood. Squirrels often fight with each other, and with birds and other animals, for possession of one of the limited number of tree holes. The really influential female squirrels will have both a summer leaf nest and a tree hole den nest that they will move into when cold weather arrives. Winter breeding is from January to February, and baby squirrels born in tree den nests have a greater survival rate than babies born in leaf nests.

A tree den nest might be a hole where a branch has fallen off, or an old woodpecker nest hole. It is usually already partially hollowed-out and the squirrel must periodically gnaw at the edges of the hole to keep the hole from healing closed. The den nest will be lined with leaves, soft bark strips, and soft plants.

Your Attic Provides Even Better Winter Protection

If you have squirrels living on your property, your house is a familiar (and warm, and safe) potential den site. If a gray squirrel can find an opening, or even a corner joint or knot hole, she will gnaw to make the opening large enough to squeeze inside. Once inside an attic, the squirrel will make a nest of leaves, or chewed up paper or fabric, or she may just tunnel into insulation.

Flying squirrels will use attics for winter dens too, often nesting together in large numbers.

Squirrels can do significant damage while nesting in an attic or other space in your home. You will want to contact a professional  exterminator, like Colonial Pest, that has experience in removing and excluding squirrels.

Here’s more on squirrels nesting in attics:

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