Secrets of Squirrel Homes: Do Squirrels Have Nests?

You can see squirrels at any time of the year. Even in the Winter, they will rise from their sleeping spot to grab more food and other resources.

However, speaking of their sleeping spot, where do these squirrels go when they aren’t running around the forest floor or up trees? 

Squirrels must have a space where they will rest for the night and take care of the baby squirrels. Do they have a nest? Or are their homes called something else?

Do Squirrels Have Nests? Where do They Sleep?

With there being so many different types of squirrels that scurry around on the forest ground, there are also many different sleeping styles that these squirrels have. Gray squirrels do make nests in trees to keep them safe from predators and provide shelter.

However, the nests that squirrels make aren’t always called “nests.” Instead, the term for these nests is “dreys.”

Grey Squirrel in his drey

Gray squirrels will build dreys up in the tree cavity (which is the spot at the top of a tree trunk where large branches sprout out from) or up on tall branches. 

The spot where a squirrely chooses to make its nest depends on how much protection they need.

Building a nest, or a drey, in the tree cavity provides extra stability and hardy protection. However, dreys that are on tall branches are much safer from large predators on the land. 

A squirrel will always make sure that their drey is at least 20 feet (6 meters) from the ground to ensure that they have the best protection from both the elements and dangerous predators. 

Dreys will look like football-sized balls of leaves, twigs, and other materials clumped together into a solid shape.

Any small material that can be formed into the shelter will be added. They can be around 6-8 inches in their diameter, but they can come in bigger sizes as well. 

Dreys Will Change Shape Throughout the Year

Squirrels need to be able to use their dreys throughout the seasonal changes of the year. This means that the nests have to accommodate bright sunny days during the summer and the bitter cold in the Winter.

In the summer, a squirrel’s drey will have a more open top and won’t be as densely packed. This allows for wind to flow through and above the drey which helps cool off the squirrel inside. It’s also nice for the nighttime as the hot air from the day won’t get trapped. 

As the seasons turn and it gets a lot colder outside, the drey will become more densely packed with materials. There will be more leaves, twigs, and even paper products shoved into the shape to make sure that all warmth stays inside. 

squirrel dreys in winter

Along with having a more compacted exterior, a wintertime drey might also have a “roof” which is just more materials stashed into the top of the drey.

Once again, this prevents cold air from getting into the drey, allowing the squirrel a nice warm rest. 

Having the drey be more compacted in the winter also keeps the squirrel safer from threats. Other mammals will go out during their hibernation to search for more resources and food.

If you are a squirrel, you don’t want to be found by predators while you are hibernating. 

Many Reasons to Have a Drey, They Aren’t Only for Sleeping

There are obvious answers to why a squirrel has a drey. They provide a comfortable spot to sleep, and they are important for staying protected from predators. Yet, a drey is still much more useful than that. 

First, a squirrel will use a drey to raise their family. It may seem small and cramped, but a good-sized drey provides a squirrel family with plenty of protection.

These dreys allow baby squirrels to grow up unharmed as they won’t have to deal with the everyday dangers of being out on the forest floor just yet.

Some squirrels will also build several dreys in the territory that they have claimed. This gives them plenty of space to store resources, raise their young, and give them several hiding spots in case they are being pursued by a predator. 

With this extra space, squirrels can use one of the dreys for just food and other resources. Like how we have rooms dedicated to certain purposes, squirrels who have several dreys can dedicate them to different purposes as well. 

This storage-drey usage is most commonly seen when a squirrel is preparing for the winter. At that point during the year, all the animals in the forest will want to make sure that they have enough food, water, and materials to last them through most of the winter. 

As the winter season goes on, resources become more and more scarce. This makes stockpiling so much more important for these small creatures. 

The more hidden dreys are likely to be dedicated to raising baby squirrels. A squirrel can have a lot of children because they mate twice a year, once in the spring and again in the late summer. Those babies will need plenty of space, so they are likely to have their own drey to stay hidden, warm, and safe. 

Baby squirrels will then learn how to create their own drey pretty early on in their lives. If you are interested in what it looks like when a squirrel builds their drey, check out this informational video

Don’t Get Dreys Confused with Bird Nests

Nests tend to look very similar as they are all made with the same materials. However, if you are looking for dreys, don’t get them confused with a bird’s nest. 

If you need a few key clues on how to tell the difference between a drey and a bird’s nest, pay attention to the nest itself and the environment around it.

Squirrels have more hand dexterity than a bird, so they are better able to weave different materials into their dreys.

In a drey, you are likely to find leaves woven in whereas there typically aren’t leaves in a bird’s nest. Also, you are more likely to see scratch marks and chewed materials around the drey. If it’s a bird’s nest, there won’t be as many disturbances to the tree it’s on.

You might like: Day and Night: When Are Squirrels Most Active?

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Squirrels Can Live in a Nest?

Don’t let the size of a nest deceive you. Even in the small space that the drey provides, there can be many squirrels taking shelter in it. Typically, you can see anywhere from a single squirrel to 9 squirrels living in a single drey.

When many squirrels are living in one area, it is likely that the majority of them are babies. This means that they are smaller and don’t take up as much space in the drey, allowing more squirrels to fit in there.

What Time of Year do Squirrels Build Nests?

You will most commonly see squirrels building their shelters in the height of summer. June and July are their prime building months as there are the most resources in the area. 

It’s also the time with the longest days and the shortest nights, giving the small creatures more time to perfect the shelter before danger comes at night. 

Finally, it’s super important to have the drey built at this time as this is when mother squirrels will start giving birth to the squirrels conceived during the springtime. Having the drey finished in the summer gives both the mother squirrel and baby squirrels adequate protection after birth.

What Happens if You Disturb a Squirrel’s Nest?

We do not recommend going out and trying to disturb a drey. First, that could actually put you in danger from a squirrel attack and secondly, that’s mean to the squirrels.

However, there are times when you might accidentally disturb a nest because you didn’t realize it was there. If this happens, you must remember to not panic. Panicking draws attention to you, makes a scene, and can make the squirrel feel like it’s in danger. 

A threatened squirrel might try to attack, so be warned. Stay calm and if there are squirrels currently in the nest, simply walk away to prevent disturbing them any further.

What Does a Squirrel Do at Night?

Once they have their drey built, they now have a comfortable place to stay for the night. Squirrels will commonly sleep in their drey during the night. If a mother squirrel recently gave birth, it will likely spend a bit of extra time at night taking care of them before heading off to bed as well. 

Final Thoughts

Have you ever seen a squirrel’s drey? You might’ve mistaken it for a bird’s nest or the home of another creature if you have never seen a drey before. 

Squirrels are crazy resourceful and will use whatever they have on hand to make a safe and comfortable shelter. If you have seen a drey or have noticed that a squirrel has built a home near yours, let us know in the comments.

About Justin Stewart

With a deep knowledge of plants, landscaping, and sustainable gardening practices, his engaging content offers practical tips, creative ideas to help you transform your backyards into thriving green havens. Get ready to unlock your backyard's full potential!

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