Squirrel Behavior: More Than Just Nutty Antics!

Squirrel Behavior: More Than Just Nutty Antics!

Squirrels may seem like cute, bushy-tailed critters, but there’s more to them than meets the eye. Their daily routines and social lives are full of surprises. Let’s unravel the mysteries of squirrel behavior.

What is Squirrel Behavior?

At first glance, squirrels may seem like cute, bushy-tailed rodents. But their behavior reveals remarkable talents for survival, communication, and adaptation. Let’s explore what makes these common backyard critters so captivating.

Understanding the Behavior of Squirrels

Nimble Navigators

Squirrels spend much of their time leaping acrobatically among trees. With sharp claws, flexible ankles, and fluffy tails for balance, they can climb and jump with ease. This agility helps them evade predators and find food. Watching them navigate the treetops is impressive!


Squirrels have an intricate language of tail flicks, foot stomps, and chirping. These signals help them warn of danger, defend territories, and attract mates. Their communication methods are diverse and fascinating to observe.

Architects of Cozy Nests

Squirrels are skilled home builders. Using twigs, leaves, moss and even their own fur, they construct nests called dreys. These spherical dens, built high up in trees, give shelter from weather and camouflage from predators.

Foraging for Treats

With excellent senses of smell and memory, squirrels sniff out food like nuts, fruits, fungi and seeds. They bury some in caches to unearth later. Their constant foraging fuels their energetic nature.

Survival Adaptations

Squirrels have important survival skills, including speedy evasive maneuvers, distraction with their tails, and quick retreats up trees or into burrows. These tactics help them thrive despite many predators.


Surprisingly adaptable, many squirrels thrive living near humans. Urban squirrels grow accustomed to scavenging leftovers and nesting in man-made structures. They provide a fun dose of nature in the city.

The behavior of common squirrels reveals impressive intelligence and adaptation. Watching these energetic creatures in parks and backyards opens up their quirky world. Their antics tell a remarkable story of survival.

Why Do Squirrels Have Bushy Tails?

A squirrel’s bushy tail is more than just a fashion statement – it allows them to communicate! Squirrels use a variety of tail gestures and positions to convey different messages.

squirrel behavior - squirrel on a sunny beach

Decoding Squirrel Tail Signals

Their behavioral patterns can tell us a lot if we just watch and decode the meaning.

  • Flicking – A quick tail flicking often signals danger or warns other squirrels of potential threats nearby. It tells others to be on high alert.
  • Wagging – Slow, exaggerated tail wagging frequently indicates mating readiness in squirrels. It shows a female is in estrus or signals a male’s interest in breeding.
  • Twitching – Subtle, sporadic tail twitching can occur when squirrels feel agitated or anxious. It’s an indicator of their emotional state.
  • Raised – Keeping the tail parallel to the ground or raised upright expresses confidence and conveys dominance. It’s a sign of territorial authority.
  • Puffed – Puffing up its tail makes a squirrel look bigger and shows aggression towards intruders. They may be defending a food source or nest site.
  • Waving – A squirrel waving its tail gently from side to side often tries to draw attention to itself. It may indicate a desire to play or interact.
  • Drooping – A tail held low against the body signals caution, submission, or fear. It usually means they feel threatened. Squirrel tail communication is complex and fascinating. Next time you spot one, observe how they use this effective tool to signal messages and moods.

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How Squirrels Survive and Thrive

Squirrels rely on some crafty survival skills to stay safe from predators and the elements. From dodging hawks to building cozy nests, their behaviors give them a key advantage.

Masters of Escape

When squirrels sense nearby predators like hawks, cats or snakes, they jump into action. Blazing fast sprints, zig-zag movements and instant direction changes help them evade capture. Darting up trees or into burrows provides protection.

Decoy Tails

A squirrel’s furry tail serves another purpose beyond just looking cute – it waves and flickers to distract enemies. Predators often get transfixed on the tail, allowing the squirrel precious time to get away. Such clever adaptations help them survive.

Architects of Comfy Nests

Squirrels are true artisans when building shelters called dreys high up in trees. Using twigs, leaves, moss and even their own fur, they construct well-insulated nests. These dreys protect baby squirrels and give adults cozy refuge from weather and predators.

Squirrels persist in the face of many threats through creative survival strategies. Whether dodging coyotes or curling up in a tree hole, squirrels’ behaviors reveal their remarkable resilience. Just another reason to appreciate these spunky critters!

squirrel nests - photo of drey in tree
squirrel nest

Do Squirrels Hibernate, and How Does This Affect Their Behavior?

When the weather turns cold, what happens to those energetic squirrels? Do they hibernate or simply become less active? The answer depends on the type of squirrel.

Tree Squirrels Slow Down

Tree squirrels like gray, red and fox squirrels don’t fully hibernate. But they do experience torpor – a light sleep state. Their metabolism and activity decreases. Tree squirrels sleep more in cozy nests but still emerge at times.

Ground Squirrels: True Hibernators

Ground squirrels, like chipmunks and prairie dogs, undergo true deep hibernation. For months, their body temperature drops dramatically and they don’t eat or drink. They remain in underground burrows in an extremely dormant state.

The After Effects

When ground squirrels emerge from hibernation, they move slowly at first. They seem tired and disoriented as they adjust back to normal life. But after a few weeks, they return to their usual energetic selves.

So while all squirrels reduce activity in winter, only ground squirrels experience true prolonged hibernation. Either way, it’s an important survival adaptation when cold weather strikes.

how long do squirrels live - ground squirrel
Ground Squirrel – Image courtesy of Mr. Winston Hijinks (@mr_winston_hijinks) | Instagram

Diet Preferences: What do Squirrels Like to Eat Most?

To appreciate the feeding behavior of squirrels, let’s look at their diet preferences. Squirrels mainly forage with a sense of smell for nuts and seeds, but many also eat vegetables, fruits, and even small insects, bugs, and bird eggs opportunistically.

With over 200 species globally, squirrels have adapted to eat a variety of foods. Let’s explore some of their unique dietary preferences and foraging strategies.

Tree-Dwelling Acrobats

Tree squirrels like eastern grays have mastered acrobatic food gathering. Acorns, nuts, seeds, buds, berries – if it grows on trees, they’ll find and eat it. They bury nuts and seeds to unearth later.

Pinecone Specialists

Red squirrels dine primarily on pinecones. They also enjoy fruit, nuts, mushrooms and occasionally insects. Unlike other squirrels, reds store all their food in one “larder hoard”.

Ground Dwellers

Ground squirrels munch on a diverse buffet – seeds, nuts, greens, fruits, bugs, eggs, even small critters. They don’t cache food. Instead, they fatten up pre-hibernation.

Tropical Fruit Lovers

Giant tropical squirrels, like the Malabar Giant squirrel feast on sweet fruits like mangoes and coconut. Their habitat provides a bounty of flowers, nuts and eggs too. A paradise for fruit-loving squirrels!

Malabar giant squirrel of India sitting in a tree
Malabar Giant Squirrel of India

Role of Nuts in Squirrel Diet and its Impact on Squirrel Behavior

Squirrels have a diverse diet of nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetation. Nuts critically influence squirrel behavior. The presence of valued food items like nuts and acorns can spark a flurry of activity among squirrels. Squirrels get frenzied when caching, burying nuts in various locations to retrieve them later. The availability of nuts drives squirrels to behave differently.

squirrel sitting on a log in the forrest with butterflies

Why Do Squirrels Cache Their Food?

Squirrels practice a behavior known as food caching, where they bury food items in different locations for future consumption. This caching behavior serves as a survival strategy during times of scarcity. By spreading out their food supply, squirrels ensure they have enough to sustain themselves when resources are limited.

Fox squirrel eating an almond

The Changing Behaviors of Expectant Squirrel Moms

When a female squirrel is expecting, her actions and personality begin to transform. She focuses all her energy on nurturing the babies growing inside her.

Early on, pregnant squirrels start gathering extra twigs, leaves, moss and fur to build a sturdy “nursery nest”. They also begin stashing away more food to have provisions for their future babies.

As the big day approaches, expectant moms grow calmer. They sleep more and are less interested in play. Chirping and territorial displays stop too.

Other squirrels sense the mom-to-be needs peace and quiet. They avoid dominating behaviors towards her.

After the infants are born and nursing, new squirrel moms remain very protective. But once weaned, normal activity resumes. It’s a remarkable transition back to her pre-pregnancy, energetic self!

The behavioral changes of a pregnant squirrel all ensure healthy babies. It’s a joy to observe moms-to-be preparing the next generation.

Miss Hazel pregnant squirrel eating a nut
Miss Hazel – nursing mom

What Happens if a Squirrel is Pregnant?

  • Heightened activity around nesting sites in early pregnancy.
  • Increased appetite and thirst to support pregnancy.
  • Food hoarding and storage for future months.
  • Female squirrels eat more food due to greater nutritional needs.
  • Seeking solitude from other squirrels.
  • Decreased activity levels.
  • Gathering materials for nest-building.
  • Calm demeanor and increased sleep as delivery approaches.
  • Reduction in chirping.
  • Decreased playfulness, potential dominance, and territorial behavior in others.
  • Return to pre-pregnancy personality after a few weeks.
what color is a squirrel - grey squirrel
Lucky, a beloved Grey squirrel and mother. Image courtesy of @beryl_the_squirrel on Instagram

Squirrel Behavior with Humans

As wilderness areas shrink, squirrels increasingly find themselves living side by side with humans. How do they adapt their behaviors in our neighborhoods and parks?

Common Patterns of Squirrel Behavior with Humans:

  • Acclimation: City squirrels grow accustomed to people’s presence. They go about their daily business foraging and playing even with humans around.
  • Fear and Caution: Most squirrels are wary of getting too close to humans, showing agitation and retreating when approached. But hunger may override fear, cautiously leading them to approach people for food.
  • Food Seeking: Squirrels learn that humans feed them intentionally or share crumbs. This leads them to beg for snacks from park visitors frequently.
  • Boldness and Aggression: Excess feeding can cause squirrels to lose their natural fear of humans. They may draw very near, even acting aggressively.
  • Nest Defense: During nesting season, Squirrel moms become extra defensive of their tree nests, chasing away any perceived threat – even people.
  • Adaptability: Squirrels readily inhabit urban green spaces. Some even take up residence in attics or begin digging in gardens.


The quirky, clever behaviors of squirrels reveal captivating details about how these spirited rodents survive and thrive. Their acrobatic leaps, chattering tail signals, and crafty food hoarding fill backyards and parks with excitement.

As squirrel enthusiasts, we cherish opportunities to observe these furry creatures in action. There’s always more to discover about their hustling and bustling lives.

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Q: What are some key types of squirrels?

A: Major squirrel species include red, gray, fox, flying, and ground squirrels.

Q: What do squirrels do all day?

A: Squirrels spend their time foraging, caching food, building nests, climbing trees, playing, and socializing.

Q: Where do squirrels build nests?

A: Squirrels build nests called dreys high up in trees or in tree holes using twigs, leaves, moss and fur for insulation.

Q: What do urban squirrels eat?

A: Urban squirrels adapt to scavenge human food like crumbs, leftovers, birdseed and trash.

Q: Do squirrels hibernate in winter?

A: Tree squirrels reduce activity in winter but don’t fully hibernate. Ground squirrels hibernate deeply for months.

Q: How do squirrels communicate?

A: Squirrels communicate through vocalizations like chirps and tail movements, including flicks to signal danger and wagging to show mating interest.

Q: Why are squirrel tails so bushy?

A: Their fluffy tails help squirrels balance as they leap between trees. Tails also serve as distraction for predators.

Q: How do squirrels evade predators?

A: Squirrels escape using speed, erratic movements, retreating up trees, and burrowing into ground. Some may puff up tails to appear bigger.

Q: What does it mean if a squirrel visits you?

A: Some believe squirrel visits symbolize resourcefulness, preparation, and balance.

Q: How can people safely observe squirrels?

A: Watch squirrels from a distance. Do not feed or interact closely with wild squirrels.

Q: How can squirrels and humans coexist?

A: Peaceful coexistence involves respecting squirrels’ space and not interfering with their natural behaviors.

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