Squirrels overview: lifespan, diet, sleep and nesting

squirrel at the base of a tree eating
Squirrels are rodents. Squirrels are members of the Sciuridae family, or squirrel family, which also consists of chipmunks, prairie dogs, and marmots.

Types of squirrels

There are actually more than approximately 200 species of squirrels that live all over the world. Squirrels are small mammals that can be divided into three groups: tree squirrels, ground squirrels, and flying squirrels.

Tree squirrels, as the name suggests, live in trees. Tree squirrels may live in tree cavities or will build nests on tree branches. Ground squirrels can climb, but they live in underground burrows. Both tree squirrels and ground squirrels can be pests to homeowners. 

The eastern gray squirrel is the most common tree squirrel in North America. The eastern fox squirrel and the American red squirrel are two other common tree squirrels. These types of squirrels you would find in your backyard or a forest. The California ground squirrel is in fact the most common type of ground squirrel. 

The southern flying squirrel is found in forested areas in North America. Unlike most squirrels, flying squirrels are nocturnal. These types of squirrels tighten the folds of the skin by stretching out their front and rear legs. This allows them to glide, which makes them appear to be flying.

They use this ability to move from branch to branch or to get to the ground from a treetop. These squirrels are not considered pests because they typically remain in forests instead of urban areas. 

10 Squirrel Facts 

  1. Squirrels indeed live on each continent except Antarctica and Australia.
  2. Squirrels can jump a distance up to twenty feet.
  3. Some gray squirrels are entirely white or black.
  4. Squirrels pretend to bury food to confuse other animals.
  5. Newborn squirrels are about one inch long.
  6. Squirrels have 4 toes on what is their front feet and 5 on their hind feet.
  7. The front teeth of squirrels never stop growing.
  8. Squirrels have peripheral vision and can partially see what’s behind them.
  9. A group of squirrels is called a scurry. 
  10. Squirrels can fall from one hundred feet and not get hurt.

Are squirrels rodents?

Yes, squirrels are rodents. Squirrels are part of the order Rodentia.

There are five suborders in the Rodentia class, so squirrels are loosely related to other rodents, including mice, gophers, beavers, and porcupines.

How long do squirrels live?

Squirrels can live between 5 and 10 years. They can even live up to 10 to 20 years in captivity.

Although, many baby squirrels do not survive the first year of life. This can be because of predation or a nest falling out of a tree.

Where do squirrels live?

Where a squirrel lives depends on the type of squirrel. Tree squirrels and flying squirrels live in wooded areas. They create nests from moss, grass, feathers, twigs, and other natural items.

Their nests can be found in the crooks of tree branches about twenty feet off the ground. They also may build a nest in a hollow area of a tree trunk or branch.

Ground squirrels dig deep burrows, which is a system of underground tunnels. Burrows can range from five to thirty feet long and can go four feet underground. 

Most types of squirrels typically live alone. The only times they live with other squirrels are for warmth in the winter and if they have babies.

What do squirrels eat?

Squirrels are known omnivores, meaning they eat plants and meats.

Generally, squirrels eat nuts, fruits, insects, fungi, bird eggs, flowers, and more. Although, squirrels are not picky eaters and will eat just about anything. The meat that squirrels eat consists of baby birds, carrion, lizards, and snakes. 

Squirrels can be pests to homeowners since they will dig through trash cans to find food to eat. They will also search through flower beds to eat flower bulbs.

If you have a bird feeder, squirrels will use that as a food source. 

Are squirrels nocturnal?

Squirrels are diurnal, not nocturnal. So they are most active during the daytime. Tree squirrels and ground squirrels have poor night vision and will rarely come out after sunset. 

The only type of nocturnal squirrel is the flying squirrel. Flying squirrels are very common, but because they are nocturnal, many people believe flying squirrels are rare animals.

American Red Squirrel in the snow

Do squirrels hibernate in the winter?

Ground squirrels are in fact the only squirrels that hibernate in the winter. Similar to other hibernating animals, ground squirrels’ heart rate, metabolism, and body temperature will decrease in the winter months.

In this state, hibernating animals appear dead, but they are actually saving their energy. While ground squirrels are hibernating, they can stay alive without eating, drinking, or excreting. Ground squirrels usually hibernate for around eight months. They hibernate from about September to March. 

As for the squirrels that don’t hibernate, they make it through the winter by preparing for the cold in the fall. To prepare, squirrels will grow a winter coat, find a warm nest, store food, and put on weight.

Squirrels will scatter and hoard food, which means they bury food in several locations near their nest. This is so they can quickly eat and return to their nest rather than scavenge for food in the wintertime.

Even though most squirrels don’t hibernate, they sleep about twelve to twenty hours a day during the winter. What these squirrels do is called ‘winter resting.’ 

baby squirrel on wood box in the light

When do squirrels have babies?

Squirrels mate twice a year. They have babies at the end of spring and summer.

They first give birth between February and April. The second time they give birth is usually between August and September. These months will vary depending on the climate of the area the squirrels are in. 

The gestation length depends on the type of squirrel, but generally, the gestation period is between thirty and forty-four days. A group of squirrel babies is referred to as a litter.

A litter of squirrels usually consists of five to six offspring. Baby squirrels become independent and leave their nest or burrow around twelve weeks old.


Whitney is a graduate of Georgetown College and a current graduate student at the University of the Cumberlands. She resides in the beautiful state of Kentucky, which she has always appreciated and endeavors to maintain the land's well-being. A lover of animals and the earth, Whitney strives to communicate accurate information that will help readers learn new information, ideas, and become informed stewards of the natural world.

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