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Squirrels are a common sight in many neighborhoods, parks, and woodlands. But where do squirrels sleep?
Whether it’s tree squirrels, flying squirrels, or ground squirrels, all squirrel species retreat to a safe place to get their shut-eye each night.
Where squirrels sleep depends on factors like the type of squirrel, the season, and weather conditions.
In this article, we’ll explore the sleeping habits of squirrels and uncover the secret sleeping spots where they snooze. We’ll find out where tree squirrels, flying squirrels, and ground squirrels sleep at night, during winter months, in the rain, and more.
We’ll also look at how squirrels sleep and the hours they tend to be most active versus at rest.
By the end, you’ll have an expert understanding of where these acrobatic creatures bunk down to get their rest when they aren’t energetically foraging.
Different Types of Squirrels
With over 200 species, there is quite a bit of diversity when it comes to squirrels. To better understand their sleeping behaviors, it helps to be familiar with some of the major categories squirrels fall into.
The three main types of squirrels are tree squirrels, flying squirrels, and ground squirrels.
Each group has evolved distinct features and habits adapted to their environment.
- The most common squirrels found in our neighborhoods and parks are tree squirrels.
- Eastern gray squirrels, fox squirrels, and pine squirrels are some examples of tree squirrels.
- As their name suggests, they spend most of their time climbing, jumping, and nesting amongst the branches.
- Flying squirrels are another tree-dwelling type with a unique ability to glide between trees using an extra flap of skin.
- Their habitats overlap with tree squirrels but flying squirrels are more reclusive and nocturnal.
- Ground squirrels like prairie dogs, marmots, and chipmunks stay low to the ground rather than climbing.
- They dig elaborate burrow systems underground to create nest areas safe from predators.
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Where Do Squirrels Sleep?
Bedtime for squirrels doesn’t mean just passing out anywhere. They want to sleep in spots that are cozy, safe, and warm – just like we do!
Depending on the type of squirrel, they may choose different spots based on their lifestyles and habitats.
Here are some common places squirrels like to sleep.
Tree Branches and Nests
- Many squirrels find comfort and safety nestled in the crooks of tree branches or within their carefully constructed nests, known as dreys.
- Dreys are cozy, spherical nests made from twigs, leaves, and other natural materials.
- These nests provide both shelter from the elements and protection from predators.
- The nests are built high up, 30-100 feet above the ground to be out of reach of predators.
- Keep an eye on the treetops, and you might spot these intricate structures.
- Nature often provides squirrels with pre-made sleeping spots in the form of tree cavities.
- These cavities can be the result of decay, woodpecker activity, or even old bird nests.
- Squirrels are known to repurpose these nooks as resting places, benefiting from the insulation provided by the tree’s thick bark.
- Ground-dwelling squirrels, such as chipmunks, prefer to sleep in burrows that they dig themselves.
- These burrows are not only used for sleeping but also serve as storage for food and protection from predators.
- If you notice small holes scattered around the ground, they may be entrances to a chipmunk’s underground bunker.
- However, some other wildlife like moles also make holes in the ground, so it’s not always easy to distinguish a chipmunk burrow.
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- Sometimes squirrels will take advantage of attics, holes in buildings, gutters, and even occupied birdhouses as handy sleeping spots.
- They may fill these spaces with leaves or grass to create a cozy nest.
- However, natural tree dens are still preferred over manmade structures in most cases.
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Where Do Squirrels Sleep at Night?
At night when it’s time to settle in, tree squirrels and flying squirrels return to their dreys or tree cavities high up in the trees.
These enclosed nests provide safety from nocturnal predators like owls and raccoons. Tree squirrels will curl up in their leafy dreys or inside cavities lined with soft materials.
Flying squirrels also use cavities, choosing ones specifically high up, over 50 feet above ground. At this height, they are out of reach from the dangers below.
Ground squirrels similarly retreat to the depths of their underground burrow networks where they can sleep soundly.
Where do Squirrels Sleep in the Winter?
In winter, squirrels rely even more on their shelters for insulation against the cold. Tree squirrels and flying squirrels will often have multiple tree cavity dens that they can rotate between.
Cavities with smaller openings retain heat better. The depths of a ground squirrel burrow stay at a relatively stable temperature year-round, so ground squirrels continue to use these in winter.
Squirrels may even cuddle up with friends or family members in winter dens for added warmth. Staying cozy helps squirrels survive the harsh conditions of winter.
Where Do Squirrels Sleep When It Rains?
During rainstorms, the natural insulation of squirrel dreys and cavities prevents the rain from seeping in.
The spherical shape of the dreys allows rain to slide off the sides. Dreys also have woven openings to promote drainage.
The thick bark of tree cavities also repels moisture. Underground burrow systems are inherently protected from above-ground weather.
By bunkering down in these sturdy shelters, squirrels stay dry even on the rainiest days. Their nest architecture is designed to withstand the elements.
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How Do Squirrels Sleep?
Squirrels sleep in cycles, alternating between deep sleep and light sleep.
In deep sleep their breathing slows, muscles relax, and it’s difficult to rouse them. Light sleep is like a nap where they could wake up quickly.
Squirrels usually sleep on their sides with their tails curled around their bodies for warmth and security.
Their tails also help balance them on branches. Tree squirrels and flying squirrels may change positions in their dreys or cavities to track the sun and stay cozy.
Do Squirrels Sleep With Their Eyes Open?
It may appear that squirrels sleep with their eyes partially open, however their eyes are actually closed with a thin membrane covering called the nictitating membrane.
This keeps their eyes protected and moist while still allowing some light perception.
The nictitating membrane gives the illusion of open eyes while preventing full light which would disturb their circadian rhythms.
So while it seems their eyes are open, squirrels’ eyes are technically closed at rest.
Do Squirrels Sleep in the Same Spot?
Squirrels are creatures of habit and prefer sleeping in the same dens or nests once they find a suitable spot.
However, they often have multiple nests within their habitat and may rotate where they sleep.
Tree squirrels have an average of 5 dreys built within their home range. Rotating allows certain dens to air out while taking advantage of new locations.
Do Squirrels Sleep Together?
It is common for squirrels to sleep together, especially in winter for warmth. Female tree squirrels may share a drey with young squirrels for bonding and protection.
Ground squirrels also cuddle together in their burrows. But adult tree squirrels and flying squirrels are ultimately solitary sleepers, so they usually nest alone.
Sleeping together depends on the type, age, and season.
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What Time Do Squirrels Go To Sleep?
When squirrels go to sleep depends on the type of squirrel.
- Tree squirrels and flying squirrels are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. They typically go to sleep around sunset when it gets dark out.
- Ground squirrels are crepuscular, most active during twilight. They go to sleep in their burrows around dawn and reemerge in late afternoon.
- Nocturnal flying squirrels start their day at dusk and sleep during daylight hours.
The exact bedtime can vary but most squirrels go to sleep within 1-2 hours of sunrise or sunset.
How Long Do Squirrels Sleep?
Squirrels sleep an average of 9-12 hours per 24-hour cycle. Broken into cycles of light and deep sleep, they get a combination of quality rest and brief naps.
Here are specific sleep times.
- Tree squirrels: 10-12 hours
- Ground squirrels: 9-10 hours
- Flying squirrels: 9-11 hours
Squirrels need more sleep during colder winter months when conserving energy is crucial. In summer they are more active and sleep less.
What Time Do Squirrels Wake Up?
Wake-up times for squirrels align with when they go to sleep.
- Free squirrels wake up around dawn.
- Ground squirrels emerge from burrows around mid-late morning.
- Nocturnal flying squirrels return to their nests in the early morning before sunrise.
Sunrise and sunset help regulate squirrel sleep schedules seasonally. In summer when days are longer, squirrels adjust their active versus resting periods.
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When we see energetic squirrels jumping between trees or scurrying through parks, it’s easy to forget these active creatures need rest.
But squirrels carefully choose sleeping spots to get quality sleep, whether it’s dreys up high, tree hollows, or underground burrows.
Their specialized nests demonstrate the ingenuity squirrels use to stay safe and cozy as they sleep.
Squirrels are more thoughtful about where they catch their Zzz’s than we may realize.
Do squirrels sleep during the day or night?
Tree squirrels sleep at night and are active during the day.
Ground squirrels sleep during the day and are active at dawn/dusk.
Flying squirrels sleep during daylight and are awake at night.
How do squirrels stay warm during sleep?
Huddling together, choosing enclosed dens, fluffing up fur, curling in a ball to retain body heat, and building insulated nests helps squirrels stay warm.
Can squirrels sleep in birdhouses?
Yes, if squirrels can fit inside, they may sleep in abandoned birdhouses, especially in cold weather for shelter.
What materials do squirrels use to build dreys?
Squirrels build dreys with twigs, leaves, bark, moss, grass, and other natural materials that provide insulation and allow rain drainage.
How can I discourage squirrels from nesting in my attic?
Block access points, use repellents, install chimney caps, trim overhanging branches, clean up debris, and consider professional removal for stubborn squirrels nesting in attics.
Resources – (for further reading)
University of Kentucky – Squirrel – Forestry and Natural Resources
Kansas State University – Tree Squirrels – K-State Extension Wildlife Management