The Ultimate Guide to Squirrel Nests

The Ultimate Guide to Squirrel Nests

Are you curious to know where tree squirrels sleep? Do they build a nest and if so, what does it look like? There are two different types of squirrel nests, leaf nests called a drey and a tree cavity called a den. Autumn is a great time of year to look up into the trees to find a nest. During Autumn, leaves fall from the trees exposing the nests’ built last summer or spring. A squirrel’s nest that is man-made from wood is called a nesting box. So let’s get started by answering what you want to know so you can have a better understanding of squirrel nests.

Why Do Squirrels Build Nests in High Trees

Why do squirrels build nests in the first place? Well, they need shelter for themselves and to keep their babies warm and safe. Nests are built high in the trees to serve as protection from predators like coyotes.

What Does A Squirrel Nest Look Like

There are two types of squirrel nests; the first is called a drey, and the other is a den.


A drey looks a lot like a bird’s nest. You can tell two apart from bird nests because they are notably much larger than a typical bird nest. They are usually 20 feet (6 m) high up in a fork or nook of trees. The tree fork serves as a solid and supportive base so the squirrels are safe and secure while sleeping. In the wild, nests are built out of branches, twigs, dried leaves, bark strips, mosses, and grasses. Squirrels living in urban areas are known to take stuffing from items like outdoor furniture cushions, dog beds, and blankets.

squirrel nests - photo of a drey
nest/drey photo
courtesy of @sandy_grant777 on IG

Nest building is tedious work. A squirrel will gather materials then pile them all together with its mouth or paws and transport them to the nest.

The floor is built first by weaving sticks and twigs. They are careful not to leave large gaps in the foundation.

The inside of the leaf nest is about six to eight inches in diameter. Gray Squirrels sometimes have nests that are up to 2 feet wide (61 cm). They line the inside with more material, usually shredded bark, grass, moss, and leaves. Adding in layers of damp leaves and moss makes the floor soft for the babies.

Like an artist, they weave a sphere around the base to form the outer shell of the structure. Finally, the squirrel stuffs twigs, moss, and leaves on the exterior of the structure. The outer shell is made up of several different layers using a combination of all the building materials. The layers provide stability, like an architectural structure without windows! The drey is surprisingly sturdy.

The finished nest has a similar shape to a globe.

two squirrels hugging
Clara and Braveheart
courtesy of @CynthiaPeterson2015

on IG

Tree Cavities/Den

Squirrels are innovative and clever creatures. Tree cavities are favored over nests/dreys because they provide more protection from the elements, like the weather.

A tree cavity or den is often first created by a woodpecker, but then abandoned and claimed later by squirrels. Besides a woodpecker, a hole results from natural processes like Mother Nature (fire, floods, and storms).

squirrel nests - squirrel peeking head out of squirrel nest
Baby Squirrel in Den

Squirrels prefer a tree cavity or den. Baby squirrels that are born in leaf nests are at risk of falling, being eaten, or being orphaned. Leaf nests are very vulnerable to wind and rain. Weather can damage tree nests or send them tumbling to the ground.

squirrel nests - baby squirrel peeking head out of nest
Baby Squirrel in Den

Also, crows will tear apart the nest to steal the babies. Many of the babies end up on the ground before the momma squirrel can get back to the nest.

Squirrel Nesting Boxes

A nesting box is constructed from wood. The ideal nesting box should be placed at least 10 feet (3 meters) above the ground but ideally around 20-30 ft. Situate the entrance hole to face east or south, away from powerful winter winds.

Squirrels adapt pretty readily to nest boxes. A squirrel will be more likely to call it home if it is filled with plenty of dry leaves, stuffing, upholstery batting, or blankets.

When building or buying a nesting box, choose one that has an inside shelf that sits right under the entrance hole. The shelf serves as additional protection preventing cats, snakes, and raccoons from getting in.

squirrel nests - nesting box
Nesting Box courtesy of Back2NatureWood
squirrel nests - nesting box
Inside of Box courtesy of Back2NatureWood
nesting box
Nesting Box courtesy of Back2NatureWood

Avoid placing a nesting box in a dead tree because over time the tree could fall down and could cause harm to your squirrel family and destroy the nesting box.

Would you like a nesting box of your very own to offer a momma squirrel a safe and secure place to give birth and raise her babies? Back2NatureWood Creations on Etsy builds high-quality nesting boxes. The craftsmanship that goes into their products is superior. You will also find squirrel feeders, bird feeders, and houses.

Do Squirrels Have More Than One Nest

Generally, they build multiple nests so that they can move their babies in an emergency if the nest is threatened by a predator. Another reason for re-location is if the nest becomes infested with fleas. The backup nests serve as storage for extra food and also a place to take naps. They will also reuse nests they previously built.

Squirrels Are Important to Our Forest Ecosystem

Forest Regeneration

Yes, squirrels are vital to our planet. The most important role of squirrels in the ecosystem is forest regeneration. They are huge contributors to shaping plant composition due to their eating and food-saving/cache habits.

Their behavior help with plant and tree growth through seed collecting. They collect the seeds to eat later, but squirrels tend to forget where they bury all of their nuts. Thankfully for their forgetfulness, their buried nuts and seeds eventually sprout and grow into new plant life. Over time, this growth leads to the expansion of the forest.

Miss Rio the squirrel
Miss Rio, a Resident Here at Kitty City Squirrels

Help Truffles Grow

Truffles are fungi and a great source of Vitamin D, our sunshine vitamin. Truffles grow underground unlike mushrooms that grow above ground. Squirrels spread truffle spores which help growth.

truffles in the forest

As the fungi grow, they produce strong odors that attract squirrels and other small animals. Squirrels eat the truffles and any of the spores that aren’t digested, pass onto the forest floor through their poop. Hopefully, landing near the roots of trees.

Sounds like the squirrel is the “middle-man” in the symbiotic relationship of fungi and trees.

Here are a few more important details:

  • When squirrels dig for food, they aerate the soil, which promotes better vegetation growth.
  • Other animals eat the nuts and seeds forgotten by the squirrels.
  • Squirrels help keep our yards in pristine condition by eating insects that destroy lawns like tree-infesting beetles and grubs.
  • Their unused nests, especially those in tree cavities, are almost always reused by other squirrels or animals.

Final Thoughts

Squirrels are fascinating to watch and they never fail to entertain us. In fact, for many people, a squirrel may be the only wild animal they see every day. Take the time to look up today. How many squirrel nests have you seen around your yard? Have you ever noticed them before? Now that you know what to look for, you’ll be surprised at how many you will find!

If you have any thoughts, suggestions, or would like to share a squirrel experience with us, Kitty City Squirrels would be happy to hear from you. Please use our contact page to get in touch.

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2 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Squirrel Nests”

  1. Great content and well put together! It’s hard for me to believe that Clara is all grown up and a mama herself in the same tree where this picture was taken.


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