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Why Do Squirrels Chase Each Other?

I was sitting in the park the other day watching two squirrels chase each other endlessly.  I wasn’t sure if other people knew why they chase each other, so I wanted to write an article.

Male squirrels chase each other to exert dominance over each other to secure a mate.  They will then chase after a female who is in estrus.  Young squirrels may be seen chasing each other as a form of play.

Most of us are familiar with the sight of squirrels tirelessly chasing each other round and round or spiraling down a tree trunk.

However, you may not know why these adorable creatures chase each other around. It is easy to assume that squirrels are just playful. Aside from playing, there are several other reasons why squirrels are often seen chasing each other.

The reasons depend on the sex and age of the squirrels.  Any time you spot them racing up or down a tree, falling, picking themselves up, and continuing with the chase, there is always a good reason behind it.

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Mating Process

The mating chase has a different pattern and takes place either in the late winter or at the beginning of spring. At this time, adult squirrels are looking for a potential mate. Most squirrels reach sexual maturity at the age of 10 to 12 months.

There are two types of mating chases. The first involves competition between males who want to assert their dominance. Competing males chase until they catch the other.

This is followed by violent fighting among males. In these chases, they are not always about the size or the strength of the squirrel, but also the maturity.

It has been noted that on many occasions, it’s the older male squirrels that win the fight to claim dominance.

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After a male has emerged victorious and proven their worth, they earn the female squirrels’ attention. The females become aware of those males who make the most worthy bachelors. 

When the female squirrel is almost approaching estrus, several males stay close to her territory. Females emit special scents and vocalizations that attract males from various neighboring territories.

Males wait until the female is ready for mating and becomes receptive. Male to male competition occurs with one of them establishing their dominance. After, this is when the female begins her mating chase.

The female squirrels would sometimes give chase at the same time her suitors are battling it out. Typically, it is the dominant male who will find her first and mate. However, this is not always the case.

The female runs off and entices the male squirrels to run after her. The males that can keep up prove how sustainable they are as partners.

As the pursuit continues, the male squirrel checks the scent released by the female to ensure she is in estrus. This is a crucial activity because female squirrels are in heat for only a few hours.

The chase goes on with the two following each other around tree trunks and through fields before the male finally manages to catch his partner. Once the pursuit is over, the squirrels copulate.

This is the normal mating process of squirrels. That’s why you might spot them in a tireless chase. However, there are a few exceptions to the rule, and some squirrels may decide to avoid this altogether.

In some instances, younger males may wait within the territory of a female. By doing this, they avoid the chase and wait for the female to stop the pursuit. The cunning male would then attack the dominant squirrel and try to chase him away. On a few occasions, the female gets injured in these vicious attacks.

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Protecting Their Territories

Some species of squirrels are territorial creatures. Others may not be territorial but will exhibit this kind of behavior if many of them live in one location. Most of the time, this is attributed to a lack of nesting places or limited food within the area.

American red squirrels and the California ground squirrels are the most territorial of all North American species, while gray squirrels are considered less territorial.

These little mammals protect their territories by chasing away other squirrels or intruders. They continuously pursue and nip until the intruders have completely left their area. It is, therefore, quite easy to identify a territorial dispute.

You can spot the squirrels running after each other in what seems to be an endless spiraling pattern up and down tree trunks.

Baby squirrels usually move away to establish their territories once they are mature enough. This can be up to 80 meters from the mother’s territory.

In some instances, the mother squirrels share part of her territory with the offspring rather than chasing them away. Similarly, some mothers may even entirely give up their already established territories to increase the odds for their offspring’s survival.

The Northern flying squirrels have a different pattern regarding their territorial behavior as the males are not territorial. Certain circumstances drive females to exhibit territorial defense.

Females only become territorial when there are fewer potential nesting sites in which they can raise their young.

Another species of squirrel that has territorial habits is the California ground squirrels. Mainly, it is the males that exhibit this kind of behavior. 

Their home range does not include other males, and they will aggressively chase away any intruders. Ground squirrels live in burrows and tend to have a territorial range of approximately 75 yards.

The burrows are very important to these animals, as it takes a lot of effort to build one. Their burrows are their primary means of surviving in the wild, as this is where they hide from predators.

For this reason, California ground squirrels will chase away any intruding squirrels who try to lurk within their territories.

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Young Squirrels Playing

The young of many animal species are playful, and squirrels are no exception. Young squirrels engage in playful chasing and a form of play fighting. They run after each other happily as kittens and puppies would.

This type of play is beneficial to juvenile squirrels. It helps them develop their skills in coordination and strength. This type of play does not usually result in any aggressive behaviors, with only playful nips occurring.

Protecting Food Supplies

Some species, such as gray squirrels, are not territorial. This means that they all live together within one location. Females are typically protective of their nests, but males do not seem to mind who else is in the territory.

There comes a time when food is scarce for gray squirrels, and many squirrels are living in the same area. This can bring about high competition for the already limited food supplies.

American red squirrels tend to be a solitary species. They are territorial, which is critical for their survival.

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The American red squirrel diet consists of seeds from conifer trees. Squirrels are quite industrious and collect as many cones as they can find. The cones are heaped into a giant pile referred to as a midden. If you see these squirrels fiercely defending their territory, they will normally be protecting their valuable food reserves.

You will find that some squirrels have to chase others away from the area to protect their food. To survive, these animals know they have to be protective of their food sources.

This is one reason why it may be difficult for them to live in an area with limited food. There may eventually be a time when disputes emerge, causing them to chase others away from the area.

Squirrels chase each other for several reasons. Adult squirrels chasing each other may be doing so because they want to claim dominance to help them mate.

Younger squirrels like having fun and playing. Chasing them is just a game. When you next see squirrels chasing each other, hopefully, you will have more of an idea why.

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