The Habitat and Homes of Wild Squirrels

Pet Care


December 23, 2021

Squirrels are curious animals that captivate the attention of everyone as the autumn months come to an end. Squirrels come down from their homes above the ground to bury their food for the winter and are often seen frantically placing acorns and other tree nuts underneath leaves and competing with other squirrels for the best nut-hiding areas that their territory has to offer.

With that in mind, this is usually the time when people find that they want to learn more about squirrels as they watch their antics. One of the most pressing questions that people have is where squirrels typically sleep, as it is rare to see a squirrel sleeping.

Where Do Wild Squirrels Typically Live?

It can be hard to come up with a clear answer for where do squirrels live, as the exact answers depend on the species of the squirrel. For the most part, this will go over the habits of the most common types of squirrels, with exceptions to the rule being mentioned at the end.

Most squirrels prefer to live in forest and woodland environments. This is because these environments offer the most opportunity in terms of food and available water and do not have as many predators in them. For example, a suburban environment may still have trees, but there is an increased presence of dogs, cats, and cars that can pose a threat to the squirrels. In a woodland area, the main predators that squirrels will face are birds of prey and occasionally a stray dog or cat.

Some squirrels find themselves living in urban environments. In some cases, this is due to a squirrel wandering too far from the woodland and finding itself in a city, unsure of what to do. In other cases, this is due to the fact that the squirrel was born there and knows little else. Squirrels in these areas typically prefer to live in attics, basements, and other areas that are sparsely populated, in comparison to the bustling city environment.

Where Do Squirrels Build Their Nests?

The place where do squirrels sleep is known as a drey, or more commonly, a nest, and are commonly found in tree branches or inside trees that have been hollowed out. When the nest is found in the branches of a tree, it is typically in a fork between two relatively large branches near the upper portion of the tree, as this will provide the most support for the squirrel and its family. While squirrels do not weigh much, having some stability provided by the fork in the branches can keep the squirrels safe and comfortable while they sleep.

Some squirrels, whether they be the opportunistic tree squirrel or a flying squirrel, will prefer to build their drey in hollowed out holes in trees, not unlike the ones that woodpeckers leave behind. These areas often offer more security and protection for the squirrel, but are usually not large enough for some of the more common tree squirrels, so it becomes very circumstantial in terms of which squirrel claims the hollowed out tree as the best place for its drey.

For squirrels living in an environment where trees are a rarity, there are a few different options. Some squirrels will flock to the city park and overcrowd the area. Other squirrels will make a home for themselves within the walls of houses, where they can be relatively unbothered. For the most part, urban squirrels will often invade buildings in some way to make a home for themselves, whether it be the basement of a building, a crawl space, an attic, or similar.

How Do Squirrels Build Their Homes?

The materials of squirrel dreys will vary for a few different reasons. For some squirrels, it may vary depending on what materials are available when it is time to build the drey. For other squirrels, it depends on the species of the squirrel, as some species will have different drey-building habits. In some cases, the difference is solely because the squirrel lives in an urban environment, rather than in a forest.

With this in mind, most squirrels will make use of twigs and sticks to build the sturdier part of the nest. This helps it keep its shape and prevent it from collapsing in on itself when the squirrel rests there. Urban squirrels may use other materials that resemble twigs and sticks. Once this exterior has been completed, squirrels will line the inside of the nest with strips of bark, leaves, grass, moss, and any other soft materials they can find. This helps keep the nest warm and cozy, especially for their young.

Squirrels that do not need to have a sturdy nest shape, such as flying squirrels who live inside trees and squirrels that have decided to live in manmade squirrel dens will usually skip the step of searching for sticks and twigs. Instead, they will move directly to finding soft and comfortable lining for the nest. This can happen even if you have provided soft bedding in a squirrel den, as this is simply instinct for the squirrel.

What About Squirrels in Urban Areas?

Squirrels that live in the city have a unique challenge to face. Most cities do not have nearly as many trees or places where a squirrel would typically prefer to sleep. Likewise, most cities also do not have many of the common drey-building materials that squirrels prefer to use. This can leave people wondering where a city squirrel is going to go when it is time to stop foraging for food.

In some part, this depends on the species of the squirrel. For example, ground squirrels are going to attempt to burrow, often finding themselves in sewer systems, basements, and within the walls of a house. Tree squirrels are going to try to go upward, finding crevices in signs, places on rooftops, and making homes in the attic of a house or building.

There are many materials in a city environment that a squirrel can use to build its drey, even if the placement of the drey is unconventional. This could be wrappers and trash that have been left behind or have spilled out of the dumpster. It could be scraps of clothing and similar material that have been left out in the open. If the squirrel is staying inside of a building, it could end up using cardboard and paper to create its home.

What Are Some of the Differences Between Squirrel Species?

Naturally, different squirrel species are going to have different practices for building a drey to sleep and live in. More often than not, you can tell by the type of squirrel what it is going to prefer.

This is most obvious when comparing tree squirrels and ground squirrels. As the names suggest, tree squirrels are much more inclined to build their dreys in the branches of a tree or compete with a flying squirrel for a home in a hollowed out tree. Ground squirrels, on the other hand, are going to be more inclined to have an underground burrow and weasel their way into basements and the walls of a house.

The Takeaway

The home and resting area of the common squirrel may vary to some degree based on the species and location of the squirrel, but the idea remains the same throughout all types of squirrels. Squirrels prefer to have a relatively isolated location, whether that is behind the signage for a building or in the forked branches of a tree.

They build their nests, known as a drey, out of sturdy materials such as twigs and sticks first before adding softer lining materials such as moss and bark. They will then call the place home, sleeping there nightly and hibernating during the winter.