The Squirrel Mating, Gestation, and Birthing Process

Pet Care


December 23, 2021

Chances are that you have seen countless squirrels throughout your lifetime, especially if you live near woodland and forested environments.

However, there are very few people who can say that they have encountered a wild squirrel who was pregnant or visibly expecting.

Of course, people know that squirrels have to expect kittens at some point, given the fact that the squirrel populace only seems to be increasing. Whether you are interested in knowing the signs of a pregnant squirrel so you can see if you will have any squirrel babies in your backyard or you are trying to assess if a rescued squirrel is also carrying unborn kittens, there may come a time where you want to learn about how squirrels produce their young.

When Do Squirrels Reach Maturity?

In order for a squirrel to be able to have kittens, which is the proper term for a squirrel’s young, it has to have reached sexual maturity. With wild squirrels having an average lifespan of approximately five to eight years and domestic squirrels living for about the same amount of time as the average housecat, it can be expected that squirrels reach sexual maturity at a relatively young age.

Squirrels are often ready for the mating process by the time that they have reached one year in age. Female squirrels are ready to begin looking for a mate at this time, searching for any male squirrel who will take her up on the offer. Squirrels are polyamorous and do not mate for life, often having two litters of squirrels a year, though some species will stick to having only one litter.

When Is Squirrel Mating Season Typically?

Because of the curious way that the female squirrel’s reproductive system works, squirrels will generally have two distinct mating seasons. The first mating season happens during the late winter months as the squirrels are leaving hibernation and getting back out in the world. The second mating season, which may not be applicable to some species of squirrel, generally ends around the time that squirrels need to begin gathering food.

The exact time of year that this happens is dependent on where you live and its temperatures, but more often than not, this first mating season ends up being around February and lasts until May, as the season begins slowly shifting into the summer months. This allows for squirrels to get right out of hibernation and back into the motions of life, carrying on their family.

The second mating season follows the end of spring, often around the time that the first mating season ends. For a squirrel, the ideal situation would be to have one litter during the earlier portion of the first mating season and then to have another litter once the second mating season is in full swing. This mating season generally lasts until the end of summer, before the squirrels have to focus on gathering and burying food for their eventual hibernation.

How Do Squirrels Court Each Other?

During these mating seasons, the female squirrel is the one who initiates conversation with any nearby male squirrels. The female squirrel will begin letting out a scent that male squirrels are attracted to. Once the female has attracted one or more male squirrels, the male squirrels will begin to chase the female squirrel while also trying to chase each other off.

While running, the male squirrels aim to impress the female in a number of ways. They slap the tree bark louder than they normally would to show off their strength. They often leap through the branches to show off their acrobatic prowess with the goal of impressing the female squirrel. With this display, the female squirrel will then choose one male squirrel that has impressed her the most.

Female squirrels are able to recognize male squirrels that they have mated with before. Interestingly, while female squirrels are polyamorous and will mate with numerous males, they refuse to mate with the same male twice. Similarly, once the mating has finished, the male squirrel will leave the female squirrel alone for good, leaving the mother squirrel to raise the kittens on her own.

How Do Squirrels Act When They Are Expecting?

When a mother squirrel is gestating her young, she will display quite unique pregnant squirrel behavior, with actions ranging from gathering food and fussing with her drey, which is more colloquially known as a nest, to eating immense amounts of food to fuel herself. The amount of time that a squirrel gestates varies heavily depending on the species of squirrel, but most gestation periods for squirrels will last between 25 and 45 days.

During this time, the female squirrel will have two goals in mind. She will want to gather more than enough food for the months to come while also consuming more than a squirrel normally would so that she can fuel herself while growing the babies. The second goal will be to make sure that the squirrel’s drey is secure, stable, sheltered, and warm enough to keep the kittens safe.

There is one exception to the second rule, and that is the ground squirrel. Ground squirrels are a bit different in the sense that they tend to build communities rather than live alone but peacefully with neighboring squirrels. As part of this, the community of ground squirrels will come together physically to help keep the nest warm, allowing the mother squirrel to spend more time searching for food.

What Is the Most Common Time for Baby Squirrels to Be Born?

As for when do squirrels have babies, it heavily depends on which mating season the kittens were conceived in, as well as the species of squirrel. Both of these play a massive role in the time that squirrels are born. With that being said, the average months for squirrels to be born in are early spring and summer.

Eastern grey squirrels will usually birth their young between late winter and early spring, or mid to late summer. American red squirrels birth their young in late spring or early summer. Fox squirrels birth their young in late winter or early spring. Flying squirrels will birth their young in late spring and early summer or early autumn.

Ground squirrels are once again somewhat unique in how they mate and birth their young. While they often have the largest litter size, sometimes reaching 15 kittens, they only breed once per year, meaning that they only give birth in the late winter months and early spring months.

How Do Mother Squirrels Care for Their Young?

Once the kittens have been born, they are fully and wholly dependent on the mother squirrel for the first four to six weeks of their lives. During this time, they cannot open their eyes, are furless, cannot eat their own food, and cannot relieve themselves. The mother squirrel must take care of keeping the kittens warm, fed, and relieved on top of her job of hiding them from predators.

After this time has passed, the squirrel will begin to open its eyes and move around. During this time, the mother squirrel will teach her young how to move around, groom themselves, consume food, and other basic tasks that the squirrels will need to learn. Once the squirrels reach about three months in age, they will be ready to start leaving the nest on their own, though the mother will continue watching the young’s antics for some months more and providing food.

The Takeaway

When all is said and done, squirrels have a heavily varied and unique way of reproducing and preparing themselves to care for their young. With as many variations in squirrel species as there are, it can be hard to find specific information unless you know what species of squirrel you are working with.

For the most part, squirrels will mate twice a year, birthing their kittens between late winter and mid-summer, depending on the squirrel species, with their gestation periods lasting between 25 and 45 days.