How Do Squirrels Survive Winter? {Do Squirrels Hibernate?}

Do you see squirrels during the winter in your area? How Do Squirrels Survive Winter?

Which squirrels hibernate? Why don’t most squirrels need to hibernate? How do squirrels prepare for winter? How do squirrels help each to stay warm?

In this article, we will find out the details surrounding how squirrels survive winter and whether or not they hibernate.

How Do Squirrels Survive Winter?

Most squirrels do not hibernate for the winter. Only ground squirrels that do not live in trees hibernate.

Instead of hibernating for this entire season, they fatten themselves up and store plenty of food to maintain their shelter inside trees or nesting in various locations including the attic of your home.

Squirrels store food to survive a cold winter season. If you look up high in trees or in cavities of tree bark, you may find squirrels in their impressive nests that they have built for the winter.

How Do Squirrels Prepare For Winter?

Ground squirrels that live on the ground and not in trees hibernate. The rest of the squirrel species needs to rely on some crafty strategies to stay alive during the winter.

  1. First of all squirrels need to store nuts, acorns and berries.
  2. Secondly they need to play their stored food in shallow holes in tree barks or other locations near their nests.
  3. Finally squirrels need to eat as much food as possible before the winter season. They build up their fat reserves and fatten their bodies up to get ready for a long period of rest inside a warm nest.

Unfortunately, squirrels may ruin some of the landscaping that you have done around your property.

Tree squirrels tend to dig holes in the soil to hide and bury their acorns. This could create a mess in the springtime for you to deal with when you resume your landscaping duties.

How Do Squirrels Survive Winter Without Hibernating?

Squirrels survive the winter without hibernating by fattening up and storing plenty of food away. You may see them running around during the winter digging up the food that they have stored.

Squirrels are able to track seasonal changes with their photo-neuroendocrine system. This is a collection of glands, hormones and neurons in their internal chemistry to figure out when the fall is about to end.

Squirrels take notice of this and begin:

  1. building warmer nest
  2. collecting supplies
  3. building up fat reserves

1. Build a Nest

Squirrels depend on building nests all year for comfortable and warm shelter. It can be inside a cavity den such as a hole inside of a tree bark or up in a tree. Unfortunately they can get in your home’s attic if they can find a way inside.

Nests will be built with:

  • Twigs
  • Leaves
  • Moss
  • Supplies from your garden or home

If there are any woodpeckers that have left holes in trees, they can provide excellent cavity dens for squirrels to build nests.

2. Collect Supplies

Now it’s time to collect supplies and store the food for the winter. Squirrels use a scatter hoarding strategy to spread out the food that they have collected. They do not want to bury everything in one place.

Some of the items they store include:

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Berries
  • Insects
  • Bones

If you see squirrels active during the winter, it is probably because they are returning to their areas where they have buried stored goods.

They can remember where they hid their food by using the method that is referred to as spatial chunking. They can remember similar types of foods and similar places.

Squirrels have an excellent memory associated with food.

3. Build Up Fat Reserves

Now it’s time to get fat. Squirrels rely on their stored fat in their bodies to survive cold weather. This gives them the energy that squirrels need to maintain their survival and core temperature.

Instead of hibernating, they can also scurry around during the cold season running up and down poles to find their stash food and also to keep warm.

It is important that you seal all gaps pin holes that could lead to squirrels finding their way inside the attic of your home during this time.

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What Do Squirrels Do in Winter?

Most squirrels do not hibernate in the winter. It is time for them to fortify their dens and shelters to make sure that it’s warm enough for the winter. They must store food in various locations to make sure that they have enough to get by.

Finally, they must eat enough during the fall season to fatten up and prepare their bodies for this long cold season ahead. They will spend last time foraging outside in the winter and more time huddled together in their nests.

They can keep each other warm this way. Storing and stashing away food for the winter is an effective strategy. They can place food in shallow holes and cover them up.

Sometime squirrels forget where they have left their seeds behind. By the time springs rolls around,  these seeds may end up turning into shrubs or more vegetation.

Bulking up and gaining mass for the winter helps them to build up fat and energy reserves. Squirrels also employ the strategy of shivering during the winter.

Grey squirrels are commonly seen shivering to maintain their body heat. They are not freezing, they are simply employing the shivering strategy to keep their bodies warmer.

Where Do Squirrels Nest In Winter?

Squirrels would love to find a place inside your home to next for the winter. We must not allow this and make sure that our attics or other crawl spaces are sealed off. Squirrels do not hibernate, but will find comfortable locations to build nests.

They can do so in the cavity of trees, up on branches or even closer to the ground. They’re looking for shelter dens. If the winter is mild enough, you may notice squirrels scurrying and moving about to maintain their warmth while continuing to look for food.

In extreme cold temperatures, you will not find squirrels out in the open. They will be huddled together keeping each other warm and even employing the tactic of shivering to maintain their body heat.

Which Foods Do Squirrels Store For the Winter?

Squirrels must create multiple food caches and spread them around in different locations around their territory. They need to create stockpiles of reserves that are rich in calories and fats.

Seeds and nuts are their preferred items. One single squirrel can create several berry caches of food for one winter season.

The number can reach the hundreds. Some squirrels work together while others work alone. They are looking to store away the following food items:

  • insects
  • bird eggs
  • mushrooms
  • animal bones
  • nuts
  • seeds

Do Squirrels Create Body Heat?

Yes. Squirrels need their body heat in order to survive for the winter. If they can fatten up their bodies, they can create more body heat and maintain their core temperature. They also employ a few other strategies including:

  • sharing their nest with fellow squirrels to huddle together and keep each other warm.
  • shivering their bodies to maintain their core temperature.
  • developing a thicker coat for the winter.
  • altering the structure of their coats by making them able to absorb more solar heat.

It would be great if we could do certain things to alter our own skin or body hair to survive winter but this is not what humans are adapted. Squirrels have developed multiple strategies to maintain their body heat and stay warm for the winter.

Which Squirrels Hibernate?

Only ground squirrels hibernate because they do not live in trees. A ground squirrel such as the Richardson ground squirrel wakes up several times during hibernation for a few hours at a time.

While they are waking up, they are trying to raise their body temperature. Once their temperature rises to a comfortable level, they are able to go back into hibernation again.

California ground squirrels can hibernate without having to get up as often because their winters are not as harsh.

Arctic ground squirrels on the other hand, use a process called supercooling to stop their blood from clotting or freezing during extreme winter weather. They can filter out particulate matter to prevent ice crystals from forming in their blood during this time.


It’s a beautiful sight to see squirrels huddled together and keeping each other warm for the winter in natural locations around the neighborhood. The problem lies when they build nests in our warm homes inside attics or crawl spaces.

They may end up chewing through insulation and wiring. We must deter them from doing so with repellents and sealed up cracks or gaps to make sure these nests stay outdoors on trees, in cavity dens or in the ground.

We hope these squirrels get fat enough, stay warm enough and help each other remain warm for another winter season.


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