Squirrels are famous for running up trees – and this is exactly what they do in winter. Rather than migrating somewhere warm – they hide out in their cozy nest. And they don’t hibernate. They are awake all winter.
Do Squirrels Hibernate In Winter?
It is very cold out in the woods in winter – and you certainly don’t see as many squirrels around in the snow as you do in summer. So where do squirrels go in the winter? Well, you guessed it – they hibernate right where they are. Why else would they be hiding all those nuts if they weren’t going to stay close by?
Many animals go into a state of dormancy or a fixed period of staying in their nest or den over the winter – both of which we commonly call ‘hibernation’. However, there is a big difference. Hibernation is when you completely switch off your body – like you have been unplugged. This allows your body to ‘pause’ itself over the winter and hardly use any energy. You lower your breathing and heart rate and you sit out the winter entirely.
Squirrels don’t hibernate – they are always awake and ready to go – although they spend most of their ‘hibernation’ snug and cozy. Rather than switch off completely – they slow things down – but stay alert. Squirrels manage to save energy and stay warm in their super well-insulated nest – called a drey and with a layer of body fat they piled on over the fall. They can stay happy and safe in there for 3 or 4 months with the odd trips out to have a snack on some hidden nuts.
Ground squirrels do hibernate, however, and some marmots and the Arctic ground squirrel can hibernate for up to 8 months straight. Hibernation isn’t always done to protect animals from the cold – it is usually due to the amount of food available. If there isn’t food through the winter – then you need to go on pause until it comes back. However squirrels have cached all those nuts so they don’t need to slow right down – they just need to take it easy. They wait out the cold weather and are ready to burst into life when spring returns.
Should I Feed Squirrels In Winter?
If squirrels have to build up their fat reserves before the winter – would it be a good idea to feed them? To help them out.
Well, feeding them actually in winter might be a bit silly as they are all snug in their drey and probably already got themselves fat enough to last the winter. They also already know where they buried all those tasty acorns.
However, putting out food for them during the fall would be great – as this is when they really start fattening up. Walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, maize kernels, apples, and pears are all great food for squirrels – but make sure they have a feeding station separate from your birds for hygiene reasons.
There are always words of caution about feeding squirrels in gardens though – as the more you feed them – the more you will have. Making your squirrels fatter and more healthy will mean they have more kits and tell their friends about you. And if you have loads of squirrels hanging out but not enough suitable trees for dreys – this is when they move into your rafters…
Best way to feed squirrels is to plant more trees! Food and nest sites all in one.
Do Squirrels Freeze To Death?
If a squirrel is in a location where they were able to bury loads of food, build up some great fat reserves and create a warm and secure solid drey – they won’t freeze to death. They line that drey with feathers and moss and make it thick – so once they are inside it – alone or with friends – they generate enough heat to stay warm the whole time.
If however, they weren’t able to build up great fat reserves – or there wasn’t much food to bury for later – then it might be a different story. They may have to stay outside longer and through worse weather – putting their life at risk.
Also, if their drey is destroyed by humans (by accident or on purpose) or bad weather opens it up – then they won’t be able to build a new one so easily that same year. Everything they need could be under a foot or more of snow. They can however, make a temporary drey in tree hollows or move in with a friend – but if they are unsuccessful in a bad year – then it could sadly be their last.