Although it may appear that squirrels are spending their days basking in the sun’s warmth, squirrels are actually very busy in spring.
Spring marks the breeding season, and squirrels engage in mating rituals and courtship. Female squirrels construct nests in trees to give birth and raise their young. Squirrels become more active in their foraging, searching for nuts, seeds, fruits, and plants.
Squirrels are nimble little creatures that have developed strategies to help them survive and thrive in the face of predators, disease, and seasonal changes. Find out more below.
What Do Squirrels Do In Spring?
In spring, squirrels become more active as the weather warms up. Here’s what they typically do:
- Mating: Spring is the breeding season for squirrels. They engage in mating rituals, and you might observe chases and courtship behavior.
- Nesting: Female squirrels build nests, called dreys, to give birth and raise their young. They often choose secure locations in trees.
- Foraging: Squirrels forage for food more actively as new vegetation, buds, and flowers become available. They consume a variety of foods, including nuts, seeds, fruits, and plants.
- Scavenging: Spring rains can wash away buried nuts and seeds. Squirrels may need to scavenge for food and rely on stored caches less.
- Territorial Behavior: Squirrels are territorial animals, and in spring, they may engage in territorial disputes with other squirrels.
- Grooming: Squirrels groom themselves more often during this time to keep their fur clean and in good condition.
- Restocking Food Stores: Some squirrels begin to replenish their food caches during spring to prepare for the leaner times of winter.
- Increased Activity: Longer daylight hours and milder temperatures lead to increased squirrel activity, which includes playing, climbing, and exploring their surroundings.
- Vocalizations: Squirrels may become more vocal during this season, using vocalizations to communicate with other squirrels and warn of potential dangers.
- Nesting Habits: Female squirrels prepare their dreys with soft materials for comfort and insulation, often using leaves, twigs, and moss.
What Is The Typical Mating Season For North American Squirrels?
The typical mating season for North American squirrels varies depending on the species. Generally, squirrels have two mating seasons each year, one in late winter to early spring and another in late spring to early summer.
Many North American squirrel species, like the Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), and fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), have their first mating season during late winter to early spring, often from January to March. During this period, male squirrels actively pursue females for mating, and courtship behaviors become more noticeable.
How Do Squirrels Prepare For Spring?
As spring approaches, squirrels begin constructing or repairing their nests, known as dreys, which are often nestled in the branches of trees. These dreys serve as safe shelters for the upcoming breeding season, providing a secure place for females to raise their young.
Another critical aspect of their preparations revolves around food. Squirrels are renowned for their food-caching behavior. Throughout fall and winter, they collect and hide nuts, seeds, and other food items. As spring draws near, they find these caches which they rely on until fresh food becomes available. Squirrels may explore wider areas of their territory or venture into new territories in search of fresh food sources.
Squirrels usually mate in late winter to early spring, and during this time, females prepare for pregnancy. They may actively seek out secure nesting sites and make adjustments to create a suitable environment for their offspring.
Male squirrels are more territorial before the breeding season. They vigorously defend their territories and engage in courtship behaviors to attract potential mates.
For some squirrel species, like the Eastern gray squirrel, spring brings about molting. Molting allows them to shed their winter fur, replacing it with a lighter, thinner coat better suited to the rising temperatures.
As the seasons turn, North American squirrels switch from hibernation to heightened activity. In anticipation of the longer days and higher temperatures, they can be seen foraging foods, ranging from nuts and buds to seeds, fruit, fungi, and insects.
Due to their opportunistic nature, they take advantage of a wide range of food sources while caching and hoarding food and using multiple hiding spots. Their remarkable cognitive capabilities help protect against potential predators as well as ensure long-term survival success in harsh climates or changing environments.
By diversifying their diet, squirrels are able to fulfill a variety of nutritional requirements. They also feed on flowers and leaves as well as bird eggs and chicks.
Squirrels seek special refuge when selecting their tree homes. Trees that possess cavities and hollows of adequate size, as well as dead branches and plentiful foliage, provide the best security from potential predators and a safe place to bear their young.
Squirrels will frequently take advantage of opportunities created by other mammals. From skunks’ burrows to foxes’ tunnels, they will use these to nest, rest, and cache food.
Nests crafted by squirrels, known as dreys, are a common sight in trees. Often constructed of twigs and leaves 10 feet off the ground or higher for the sake of safety, these nests provide warmth and refuge, making them ideal places to raise young ones.
Squirrels are renowned for their ability to form strong social relationships and behaviors. During the springtime, North American squirrels often display communal activities such as chasing, tussling, and grooming.
During the spring season, it’s a common sight to observe squirrels coming together in groups on the ground, engaging in vocalizations as they forage for food. These gatherings include both young squirrels and their adult counterparts, fostering social interactions among them.
Squirrels form strong bonds with other members of their species and participate in diverse courtship rituals to woo potential mates. After mating is complete, male squirrels leave while females remain behind to care for and protect any offspring.
With the arrival of spring, squirrels must be wary of a host of predators. Avian hunters such as hawks and owls are potential threats, as well as canines like foxes and coyotes. Even cats pose an additional danger to these small mammals.
Squirrels are among nature’s most observant animals. When outside of the safety of their nests they must be particularly careful to protect themselves from predators such as hawks, and owls, which hunt during daylight hours, and foxes, coyotes, and cats that take advantage of reduced light levels to stalk them.
Sight and sound can easily give away a squirrel’s presence if they do not move quickly while avoiding making noise.
Squirrels must be vigilant to protect their vulnerable young from predators. From hawks and owls to cats and snakes, the threat is a constant challenge for squirrels. Squirrels rely on speed, and agility, as well as vocalizations like chattering noises designed to scare away potential attackers and warn others.
How Can We Help Squirrels In Spring?
Nuts, fruits, and vegetables all provide a nutritious snack for squirrels that is sure to keep them full. Well-built or purchased squirrel boxes make great shelters from both inclement weather and predators.
People often overlook the simple yet crucial task of providing clean water to animals. By putting out a shallow bowl or dish filled with water near their feeding area, we can ensure they don’t go thirsty. Taking that extra step towards creating an inviting environment for them will not only help ensure their well-being but also contribute significantly to maintaining healthy squirrel populations.
References And Further Reading
Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide by Richard W. Thorington Jr. and Katie Ferrell.
North American Tree Squirrels by Michael A. Steele and John L. Koprowski
National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals by Jr. John. O. Whitaker
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.