Squirrels do not hibernate. To survive winter, squirrels hoard food and build nests to withstand the cold weather.
The most common backyard squirrels include the fox and gray squirrels, tree squirrels that work hard to gain weight, grow a thick coat, and build a warm nest before winter arrives. They also gather and store nuts, berries, vegetables, grains, nuts, twigs, and more. The items they store, fat buildup, and a warm shelter will help them survive the cold winter months. Unlike others, tree squirrels do not hibernate.
Hibernation typically lasts months and occurs when an animal’s body shuts down, lowering its metabolism to the point that it can live only on its fat reserves. During hibernation, an animal does not have to eat or eliminate waste. It simply sleeps for an extended period.
Tree squirrels do not have to hibernate because they are so well prepared for the winter season. They have internal changes, like with their neuroendocrine system, that signal winter is coming and that it is time to start hoarding and building.
Squirrel Activity During the Winter
As winter arrives and temperatures drop below 30 degrees, tree squirrels will spend days sleeping in their nest. They can do this by slightly lowering their heart rate, breathing, and body temperature but not to the point of hibernation. On warmer days, they leave their nest on a mission to retrieve food from a buried stash or search for food.
Although most tree squirrels prefer to be alone, they sometimes share a nest with other squirrels during winter for warmth. If you see a squirrel shivering, that is normal. It is their body’s way of producing energy.
Squirrels can give birth twice a year, with one of those times being in late winter, around February and March. Taking care of a litter will be a priority, including feeding and keeping them warm.
Where do Squirrels Live in Winter?
Squirrels are master nest builders. Using twigs, leaves, moss, and bark, they compact the materials to form a sturdy basket-like dwelling. Nests, or dreys, are built around tree branches as high as twenty feet or in holes within trees. Squirrels will use den areas previously made by woodpeckers, raccoons, and other wildlife.
Tree squirrels usually build more than one nest, depending on how far they must travel for food. They like to be close to their buried hoards. Some squirrels build nests that have different purposes. One may be for raising their young, and others may be for safety, scanning the area, or feeding.
If you have a squirrel in your backyard, there is a chance it will build a nest in your home, which is a preferred location because it is an enclosed, safe, warm spot. Attics, crawlspaces, chimneys, and ducts are a few places homeowners find squirrels nesting.
A Squirrel in Your House
While squirrels are cute enough to want them as pets, they are not great houseguests. One reason is that squirrels have ever-growing teeth, which can be painful if they grow too large. To prevent this, squirrels chew and gnaw on everything. If in your home, expect squirrels to chew on electrical wires, insulation, wood beams, ductwork, siding, and insulation.
Some of what they chew becomes materials for a nest. Squirrels will also use inside areas as a bathroom. Each action of a squirrel can have a domino effect leading to costly repairs and safety hazards for you and your family. For example, chewing on electrical wires or building a nest in ductwork are fire hazards.
Squirrel waste and urine that piles up will seep into your wood floors and beams. It can slide down your walls, leaving stains, and will produce a terrible odor that can travel throughout your home. Waste and urine carry toxins that can lead to transmittable diseases to humans, such as tularemia and salmonellosis.
Signs a Squirrel is in Your House
You can watch for specific signs that suggest you have a squirrel living in your home, like hearing odd sounds coming from your attic or other parts of your home. Squirrel sounds include chirping, squeaking, barking, grunting, and gnawing.
Other signs include finding holes in your siding or walls, stains on ceilings or walls, and foul odors. Squirrels are very messy, so a nest may be nearby if you notice an area in disarray.
What to do About Squirrels in Your House
Getting rid of squirrels from your home is not as simple as it may seem. Depending on where you live, local or state regulations may apply. Squirrels are classified as fur-bearing animals and sometimes require special permits for trapping.
If a squirrel has given birth in your home, you want to ensure the litter will survive and remain with its mother. Also, squirrels carry ticks, like the deer tick associated with Lyme disease. Ticks can move from animals to humans. If a squirrel feels threatened, it may bite or attack in self-defense.
You can avoid all negative consequences by hiring a wildlife control operator certified to remove squirrels from your home and property. They use safe and humane traps and proper gear and equipment. Most importantly, they know the laws regarding squirrel removal during the winter.
Added benefits of hiring a professional include a thorough inspection and repairing damages caused by the squirrel. They also implement exclusions to protect your home from future squirrel activity.
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