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Fall marks the start of a flurry of activity for North American squirrels. Have you ever been captivated by the sight of a squirrel scurrying around your garden, only to be left wondering what they do in autumn?

As temperatures begin to cool and days shorten, they scurry around gathering supplies that will sustain them throughout the winter months ahead. This includes scavenging hard nuts from beneath sturdy bark and collecting crunchy fallen leaves to store away in their underground dens.

As the days grow colder and winter approaches, it is interesting to observe how squirrels modify their behavior in response. From diet changes to seasonal migration activities – this article dives into all the fascinating nuances of fall life for these critters. So join us as we discover what makes autumn special for our furry friends.

Squirrel eating

Types Of North American Squirrels

North America is abundant with a diverse selection of squirrels, each distinguishable by its features and habitat. The four most common types are the red squirrel, gray squirrel, fox squirrel, and flying squirrel, which appear in coniferous or hardwood forests, depending on the species.

With reddish-brown fur accompanied by white undersides, and just 10 inches long, the smallest species is the Red squirrel. The Gray squirrel is larger at 18 inches in length featuring grey to black colored fur, and inhabits hardwood landscapes predominantly.

The Fox Squirrel is the largest at 24 inches boasting an attractive coat of orange-red hairs coupled with white bellies and can be found in coniferous and hardwood regions.

The unique flying squirrel is a captivating creature. Although similar in size to the gray squirrel, this species boasts an impressive adaptation: its gliding membrane allows it to glide from tree to tree with grace and ease. Found primarily within dense coniferous forests, these animals are characterized by their chocolate-hued coats highlighted by frosty gray patches.

You may have heard a squirrel but not realized it.  Find out what sounds they make here.

Preparing For Winter

As winter looms on the horizon, squirrels spend their fall months preparing for the cold season. They diligently gather and store food such as nuts to ensure sustenance throughout the harsh conditions.

They develop strategies that aid them in withstanding frigid temperatures, which includes constructing nests within trees or other areas of insulation which offer shelter against biting winds, plus growing a thicker coat of fur to provide extra warmth during these times of need.

They increase food intake to gain more fat to build up the energy reserves needed for sustaining cold months. Additionally, hibernation is a crucial mechanism employed by these small rodents, during which body processes are slowed to conserve energy and survive long periods with minimal food.

Storing Food

North American squirrels face a formidable challenge in preparation for winter: avoiding predators while gathering and stockpiling food. To increase their chances of success, they are most active during the early morning and late evening when visibility is low. By storing up on food reserves ahead of the colder months, squirrels can ensure that all their needs will be met until springtime returns.

From the fall through winter, squirrels rely on a diverse diet to survive. Nuts, seeds, and fungi are staples. However, they also consume insects, tree bark, bird eggs, and buds when available.

From the fall through winter, squirrels rely on a diverse diet to survive. Nuts, seeds, and fungi are staples. However, they also consume insects, tree bark, bird eggs, and buds when available.

To weather long, cold months without food shortages, these industrious mammals store nuts in nests or other locations where they can easily be retrieved later. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for them to seek sustenance at human-provided sources such as feeders filled with tasty morsels that make especially fine pickings during times of scarcity elsewhere outdoors.

With an appetite for variety, squirrels are adept at scavenging and will take advantage of a wide array of food sources. Their diet consists of nuts, seeds, fruits, fungi, and insects – but they don’t stop there. Opportunistic by nature, squirrels have been known to explore human-made areas in search of nourishment, such as garbage cans or compost piles near bird feeders.

Preparing Nests

As the colder months approach, squirrels begin an impressive feat of preparation and construction. Gathering materials such as leaves, twigs, and bark, they craft intricate spherical nests lined with soft substances like fur or moss for added warmth in wintery weather.

Squirrels will add insulation by adding feathers or other items outside their homes. To increase chances against predators without sacrificing comfort levels during hibernation season, these animals also build multiple habitats, ensuring a cozy escape from biting temperatures and predators.

Once the squirrels have constructed their nests and stocked up on food, they can prepare for winter. During hibernation, these animals will use the stored provisions to survive until spring arrives again, all while watching for potential danger.

Do you want to know what squirrels eat?  Find out here.

Mating And Reproduction

As the temperatures cool and fall sets in, North American squirrels focus on reproduction. Many species reproduce in winter and spring. After preparing for winter by gathering food reserves and building nests, males set out to win mating rights with a flurry of physical competition, often engaging in chases with other males. Assuming they are successful, pairs will mate multiple times.

While getting ready for the chilly winter months, female squirrels engage in a flurry of activity to construct and provision warm nests. Upon birth, up to 8 blind baby squirrels need nearly ten weeks of motherly care until they can brave the outside world unassisted.

Squirrels rely on mating and reproduction to ensure the species’ continued survival. With proper care, these animals can persistently flourish within their natural habitat.

Did you know there are many benefits of having squirrels in your backyard?  Find out more here

Squirrel eating

M.igration Patterns

Fall signals the start of an annual trek for Eastern gray squirrels as they search for a more suitable environment to spend winter. Food availability, temperature, and predator presence plague their journey. Some species venture several miles, but others travel much further.

Squirrels are highly adaptable little creatures whose movements can be strongly impacted by various environmental factors. No matter where they go, it is inevitable that the availability of food sources, temperature regulations, and predator presence will all come into play when determining migration routes from year to year.

Do you know what eats squirrels? Find out here

Role in the Ecosystem

During the autumn months, squirrels contribute to North American ecosystems. By dispersing seeds and nuts of plants across their habitat, they play a fundamental role in expanding plant diversity while providing food for predators like hawks and owls.

By preying on caterpillars which can wreak havoc among vegetation if not kept under control, these small mammals help maintain healthy local environments.

By digging their soil to bury food throughout the fall months, squirrels contribute to a healthier environment by aerating soil. This process helps plants absorb more oxygen and nutrients from the ground, creating local ecosystems that benefit flora and fauna.

Human Impact On North American Squirrels

North American squirrels have experienced widespread changes due to our activities, including logging and urbanization. The resulting habitat disruption and food availability decreases have resulted in population declines for many native squirrel species.

To complicate the situation further, humans have also introduced non-native grey squirrels, which are more successful at competing with natives for resources than their local counterparts, making it difficult for other species.

Squirrels are a keystone species for North American ecosystems, and the threat posed by humans continues to be real. From hunting or trapping for fur and meat to being victims of cars, cats, and dogs, these creatures need protection from our impact on their population numbers.

We must become conscious of this issue to ensure healthy squirrel populations both now and into the future.


North American squirrels are remarkable creatures, showcasing their versatility and resourcefulness in the face of changing seasons. In preparation for winter, they exhibit various behaviors; collecting provisions to store away, constructing appropriate shelters for protection from harsh weather conditions, and harvesting more before cold temperatures arrive.

Do you know what squirrels do in winter? Find out here

References and Further Reading

REYNOLDS, J. C. 1985a. Autumn-winter energetics of holarctic tree squirrels: a review. Mammal Review, 15:137-150.1985b.

Details of the geographic replacement of the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) by the grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Journal of Animal Ecology, 54:149-162.

HAVERA, S. P., AND C. M. NIXON. 1978. Geographic variation of Illinois gray squirrels. The American Midland Naturalist, 100:396-407. Winter feeding of fox and gray squirrel populations

BYMAN, D., D. B. HAY, AND G. S. BAKKEN. 1988. Energetic costs of the winter arboreal microclimate: the gray squirrel in a tree. International Journal of Biometeorology, 32: 112-122.