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Do Squirrels Hibernate? How All Types Handle Winter

Squirrels live on every continent except for Antarctica. And these resilient creatures have adapted to many climates. Do squirrels hibernate? How do they survive the cold? And what do squirrels do in the winter?

Do squirrels hibernate? Of all types of squirrels (tree, ground, and flying), only some ground squirrels hibernate. The other squirrel species remain active – even during the middle of winter. Their activity level reduces as food availability is reduced.

Do Squirrels Hibernate

Because most squirrels are active during the winter, you can expect to see them while winter camping.

Do Squirrels Hibernate in the Winter? 

Most squirrels do not hibernate in winter.

Most squirrels are homeotherms, which means they can regulate their body temperatures better than hibernating mammals. As a result, they do not need to hibernate during wintertime. 

This is not the case for every squirrel. Some squirrels cannot regulate their body temperatures year-round. To survive the cold, they must fall into a deep sleep until spring arrives. 

Squirrels That Hibernate 

The ground squirrel is the only species of squirrel that hibernates. These squirrels live on the Western Coast of the United States and Canada. They make their homes in prairies, pastures, and sometimes under buildings. 

But not all ground squirrels hibernate. Some live in climates that doesn’t require this cold-weather coping mechanism.

As their name suggests, these squirrels sleep in underground burrows during the winter. Typically, ground squirrels feed on nuts, seeds, and grains to store energy and fat before hibernation. 

ground squirrel feeding before hibernation
Arctic ground squirrel feeding before hibernation

We don’t have ground squirrels here in Nova Scotia (Canada). But a few years ago, we saw colonies of ground squirrels in northern Saskatchewan. They took over the yards of many homes we saw.

Rock squirrels, a type of ground squirrel, are considered the most dangerous animal in the Grand Canyon.

Squirrels That Don’t Hibernate 

Aside from the ground squirrel, every other squirrel species does not hibernate during the winter. 

A few common examples of non-hibernating squirrels include: 

  • Gray squirrels 
  • Red squirrels 
  • Flying squirrels 

If you live in an area where these squirrels reside, you can expect to see them scampering around any time of year. Even on cold winter days, these animals occasionally venture out of their warm nests to find food. 

We’ve had trouble with red squirrels and the occasional chipmunk getting into our garage during cold winter months. It seems that they were looking for food and maybe a warm place to shelter.

squirrel feeding in snow
Red squirrel feeding in snow

Do Any Squirrels Migrate? 

Squirrels do not migrate during the winter. They may move from one area to another if their home becomes unsafe, but they don’t travel far. 

Because this relocation is permanent rather than seasonal, it is different from the migration you’ll see in other animals, such as birds or insects. 

How Squirrels Survive During Wintertime 

Squirrels can endure incredibly cold weather with the proper resources. 

How do squirrels survive when the weather drops and snow begins to fall? There are a few key factors to this animal’s year-long survival. 

How a Squirrel’s Body Handles Cold Temperature 

Squirrels have thick coats of fur that keep their bodies warm year-round. Around late autumn, this coat will become thicker to provide better insulation. 

Squirrels also have a layer of fat that protects their bodies from the cold. They gain extra fat before winter to help their bodies stay warm. Over the years, we’ve seen them gorge on rose hips and sunflower seeds in our bird feeders.

Main Food and Water Sources for Squirrels During Winter 

Finding food can be difficult for a squirrel during the winter. Fortunately, these animals know how to plan for cold weather. 

During the autumn, squirrels will store nuts and seeds inside their dens. Sometimes, they will dig holes in the ground near their dens and store food there. 

If a squirrel runs out of food during the winter, they have a few other ways to get nutrients. In a pinch, they will eat bark from trees or berries from evergreen plants. 

Squirrels can stay hydrated in cold weather by drinking melted snow. Many food sources, such as fruit and berries, can also provide water. If they live in urban areas, squirrels will also drink from bird feeders or pet bowls. 

Where Squirrels Shelter During Winter 

Squirrels will spend most of their wintertime in their nests or dens. They usually build their homes inside tree cavities or stumps. Some squirrels, depending on the species, will also build dens underground. 

What Do Squirrels Do During The Winter? 

During wintertime, squirrels mainly focus on eating, sleeping, and keeping warm. 

Several squirrels will often share a single den. They can keep warm on the chilliest days of winter by huddling together. 

Squirrels may occasionally leave their nests to urinate or defecate. They’ll also occasionally venture out into the cold if they need to search for food or water. 

red squirrel in winter
Red squirrel in winter sitting on a birch stump

So, do squirrels hibernate? Generally no. Only one type does: ground squirrels. Squirrels are great at adapting to cold weather. Most species stay awake year-round, relying on stashes of seeds and nuts to keep themselves full when food is scarce in the winter. 

Squirrels are like deer because they don’t hibernate either. How do deer keep warm in the winter? And here’s what deer eat during the winter.

Your Turn

Squirrels are not hibernating animals. Their thick coats and adaptable survival skills help them adjust to the freezing temperatures of wintertime. Have you seen squirrels preparing for hiberation? Or have you seen squirrels in the snow?