Squirrel is a term that most use to refer to a kind of familiar fluffy-tailed, tree-climbing rodent, or "tree squirrel". However tree squirrels are only a part of the true squirrel family, which also includes chipmunks, groundhogs and prairie dogs. On this page, Havahart® offers facts about the familiar tree squirrel, including general facts and how to identify damage.
General Squirrel Facts
Tree Squirrel Classifications:
- Large tree squirrels (fox, eastern grey, western gray, tassel-eared)
- Pine squirrels (red, Douglas)
- Flying squirrels (southern, northern)
Average Size: 8-20" long; .33-1.5 lb. in weight
Average Lifespan in the Wild: 6 years
There are over 100 species of tree squirrels, and they currently inhabit all of the world's continents - except for Antarctica. They are some of the most adaptable animals in the world, which has allowed them to remain populous despite urbanization throughout these lands.
As indicated by their name, tree squirrels are arboreal, and they often make their homes either in leaf nests or inside tree cavities. All tree squirrels rely heavily on the availability of mast (the dry fruit from woody plants and trees) - especially acorns and other nuts - for their survival. So a tree squirrel's habitat must consist of these nut-bearing trees.
The majority of a squirrel's diet consists of hard mast like acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts, or seeds. In fact, from September through March, one squirrel requires around 1.5 lbs. of mast per week to survive. Because a squirrel's digestive system is not equipped to absorb cellulose, they will only eat green plants, twigs and bark in desperation.
Some favorite squirrel foods include:
Activity: Diurnal in nature, squirrels are mainly active during the day. They do not hibernate but will typically spend long hours in their nests during the cold winter months.
Nesting: Tree squirrels make their homes in trees, either in natural cavities or leaf nests constructed of leaves, twigs, bark and other available nesting materials.
Communication: Squirrels are extremely vocal - they bark, chatter, scream, and purr to communicate with one another. They also communicate through body language, by moving their tails and stomping their feet.
Food Caching: In warmer months when food is more abundant, squirrels cache (hoard) food like nuts for the winter. They will dig small holes in the ground to bury their food, and sometimes they will use abandoned burrows, flowerpots or other available locations to hide their stash for a later date.
Identify Squirrel Damage
Because squirrels are active during the daytime, you are likely to see any that may be inhabiting your yard. However, you may not always be home to witness them, or they may be wreaking havoc in other places like your roof or attic.
Here are some additional signs to help identify a squirrel problem:
- stolen birdseed
- damaged wood siding
- chewed insulation or electrical wires
- squirrel tracks: tiny prints with four toes in the front and five in the back (front and hind feet are generally reversed)
A squirrel's teeth never stop growing, so squirrels must continually chew and gnaw to keep their teeth filed down.
Squirrels use their fluffy tails to balance when traveling throughout treetops and electrical lines. A squirrel's tail can also serve as a parachute to ease falls - squirrels can fall from heights of up to 100 feet without injuring themselves.
In an effort to deceive other animals and protect their real food caches, squirrels will pretend to bury food periodically, digging empty holes and covering them up with leaves.
Although squirrels store food in different locations throughout their ranges, they do not always remember where they buried it. Unrecovered nuts and seeds give way to germinating trees, which is why squirrels are known to play an important role in growing and maintaining forest tree populations.