Everything to Know About the Cute Baby Squirrel
My fascination with squirrels began years ago when one jumped up on my lap for a peanut. This little female returned to my backyard every day around the same time for a snack. If I was late getting outside, she stood by my back door like a furry trick-or-treater. I fondly referred to her as "Notch" since her left ear had a small notch.
Squirrels are intelligent critters that remember where they bury their hidden food caches. They also remember and recognize the humans who feed them (which explains why Notch was so friendly to me). Needless to say, it wasn't long before word spread in the squirrel community that good eats were served in my backyard. Within weeks, I had a dozen or so squirrels visiting my feeder.
I noticed, however, that Notch had not stopped by for a few days. When she finally returned a bit thinner, and with swollen nipples, I knew she must have had babies. My interest was piqued, so I scoured the internet to learn more about baby squirrels, and this is what I discovered.
There Are Several Types of Squirrels
Squirrels are members of the Sciuridae, a family that includes small and medium-sized rodents. There are several types — tree dwellers, ground squirrels and flying squirrels.
These rodents are indigenous to the Americas, Eurasia and Africa.
Squirrels Can Have Up to 8 Babies at a Time
Like rabbits, squirrels are very prolific breeders. Females average two litters per year, and each litter will have two to four kits, although some may have as many as eight babies at birth.
The gestational period lasts six weeks to two months, with litters born in late winter and midsummer.
Baby Squirrels Are Seriously Tiny
Baby squirrels are called kits or kittens, and a group is called a scurry. Newborn squirrels are some of the smallest mammals born in the animal kingdom.
Most babies are about an inch long at birth (depending on the species) and roughly the size of a woman's thumb.
But They Grow Quickly
Kits weigh 15 to 20 grams at birth. However, they double their weight in just six weeks after they're born.
The average mature squirrel has a body length of 9 to 12 inches. The tail measures 7 to 10 inches, and they weigh about 1 pound as adults.
They’re Basically Hairless at Birth
Kits are born pink and naked — their ears flat against their heads, and their fingers are still joined. There is little to no hair on their body until after the first week, and only then does it appear around the face and head.
Nails and whiskers do not start to grow until week two. Their permanent coat is usually in by six weeks.
Baby Squirrels Can’t See
Baby squirrels are born blind with their eyes completely shut.
Therefore, they're very vulnerable at this age to predators until they reach five to six weeks of age when their eyes finally open.
Their Teeth Are Always Growing
A month after a baby squirrel is born, his lower teeth start coming in. The upper teeth follow at five weeks.
Squirrel teeth, like most rodents, grow throughout their lives, so they must continuously gnaw on things to wear them down.
A Squirrel’s Tail Isn’t Initially Fluffy
A baby squirrel's tail does not start sprouting hair until it reaches three to four weeks. By seven weeks, the tail has spread and become fluffy with fur.
The tail is a very useful appendage. It helps with balance, regulates body temperature, breaks a fall and is used for communication. However, if a squirrel loses its tail, the furry appendage will not grow back.
Baby Squirrels Get 2 Nests
Mothers build two nests (called dreys) for their babies. The main one where they are born is for living in, while a second nest is made in a different location and used as an emergency home if the family is displaced by a threat.
Once the kits reach six to seven weeks of age, the mother squirrel builds a new, larger nest for the family to migrate to.
They Start Eating Solid Foods at Around 2 to 3 Months Old
Baby squirrels are nursed by their mothers until they are six to 11 weeks old.
Then, when they're ready to eat solid foods, they stick to a typical rodent diet of seeds, nuts, corn, fruit, tree buds, leaves, fungi, bark and vegetables.
Kits Are Rather Quiet
When mothers leave the nest to forage for food, the kits squeak and cry to alert the mother that they're hungry. However, baby squirrels cannot make any sounds until they are three days old.
After that, their cries are very soft, but the mother can still hear them and will rush back to their side.
Whenever a kit is orphaned due to misfortune, other squirrels of the same family will adopt them.
However, suppose there are no other blood-related members available. In that case, the unfortunate baby will be left to survive on their own (which they rarely do).
Baby Squirrels Can Be Quite a Lot of Work
Without proper care, a delicate baby squirrel can die in less than 24 hours due to hydration and lack of warmth. Therefore, if you find an abandoned baby, it is imperative that you get it to a vet or wildlife rehabber immediately.
Baby squirrels are high-maintenance critters and need a lot of attention, so it is best to leave an orphan with someone who has the proper training to care for it.
But They’re Not Babies for Long
Squirrel babies mature very quickly and look like miniature adults when they reach eight to 10 weeks of age.
They are no longer considered babies by the time they are nine months old and are completely independent when they reach 10 to 12 weeks of age.
They Can Start to Reproduce Within Their First Year
Baby squirrels become sexually mature and can reproduce by the time they are 11 months old. A male can smell when a female is ready to mate and will try to attract her attention by slapping the bark of a tree with his paws and chattering loudly at her. Males also know when a female is ready to mate by how prominent her eight nipples are.
Several males will attempt to mate with the same female, but the females can only mate twice a year. Once a female becomes pregnant, the baby is born six to eight weeks later. The males play no part in rearing the young.
Some Squirrels Can ‘Fly’
There are roughly 50 different species of squirrels born with a loose flap of skin stretching from their wrists to their ankles. The flaps enable them to "fly" (or glide) in the air up to 300 feet.
Even more impressive, these flying critters can make a complete 90-degree turn while in the air.
They Can Be Quite Vulnerable
The average lifespan of a squirrel is four to six years, with a high mortality rate due to its vulnerability to predators and accidents.
But many species of squirrels are capable of living up to 15 years in the wild or if carefully rehabbed by people with the proper skills to foster one.
They’ll Eat Just About Anything
Squirrels can eat 1 pound of food per week (1.5 to 3 ounces a day) and drink roughly 2 to 3 tablespoons of water each day. They spread their nut caches over an area larger than 2 square miles. The diet of most squirrels consists of berries, leaves, seeds, fungi, buds, shoots, flowers, nuts and bark. Of course, they'll eat smaller rodents, bird's eggs, insects and nestlings if they are super hungry.
In fact, squirrels spend the majority of their day eating, gathering and storing food. However, urban squirrels will eat anything — bread, candy, popcorn or whatever they can find on the ground, including leftover food from humans.
Fun side note: I once saw a squirrel carry an entire loaf of white bread up a tree to his nest!
Not All Squirrels Hibernate
Tree squirrels, such as eastern greys, foxes or red squirrels, do not hibernate in the winter. Instead, they seek sheltered nests in dense trees or find indoor shelters when the temperatures become too cold.
To survive the winter, these furry mammals bulk up to stay warm and rely heavily on their own fat reserves along with food caches that they have stored when meals become more scarce.
They Use Trees in Lots of ‘Creative’ Ways
Squirrel droppings are roughly the size of a jellybean or raisin, averaging 5 to 8 millimeters in length. The droppings are hard to see since they are light brown and blend in with the soil.
Tree-dwelling squirrels often use the hollow crevices of tree trunks to leave their droppings.
Squirrels Are Surprisingly Fast
These little guys are incredibly fast. Squirrels have strong muscles in their rear legs and a flexible tail that assists them with their balance. They also have high energy from stored fats that are quickly metabolized. The average squirrel can run up a tree at 12 miles per hour.
An eastern grey can reach top speeds of 20 miles per hour for 2 to 4 miles, while the red squirrel is capable of running 14 miles per hour, but for a shorter distance.
They’re Also Solid Jumpers
Squirrels also have double-jointed hind kegs and can turn their ankles 180 degrees while climbing.
In addition, they can jump vertically 5 feet and leap between objects 10 feet apart.
They Like to Be Awake During the Day
Unlike many rodents, squirrels are not nocturnal creatures (except for the northern flying squirrel and the Japanese squirrel). Instead, they are diurnal animals active only during daylight hours.
Tree squirrels sleep in dense nests made of branches, twigs and leaves in the trees. Ground squirrels burrow into the ground away from predators and sleep in the dirt and leaves. Therefore, the best time to watch squirrels is when they are most active, at dawn and dusk, since most of their time is spent napping — roughly 15 to 20 hours per day.
Like Humans, They See Better at Night
Squirrels have excellent daytime vision, but their eyesight is poor at night.
This explains why they are least active in the evening.
They’re Quite Clever
Many people don't realize how smart squirrels are. These clever bandits can figure out complicated "rodent-proof" bird feeders and use spatial memory skills to retrieve buried nuts. For example, squirrels remember where the best food sources are and will return to the same spot repeatedly. They also memorize the easiest and safest route through the trees to get back to their nest.
Interestingly, squirrels lose roughly 25 percent of their food cache to other squirrels and even birds that watch them hide their treasure. But these rodent tricksters are clever enough to fake out other hungry mammals by simply pretending to bury a nut to throw off the thieves.
Squirrels Like to Mark Their Territory
They are also territorial mammals that mark their areas differently. One is with the unique scent of their urine, and the other is to rub their face on the surface to put their personal scent stamp on a tree. Sometimes, they will stretch their entire body out on a limb to cover it with their smell.
These markings are used to mark territory, connect with other squirrels and send sexual/social messages to possible mates.
Squirrel Calls Are Some of the Most Interesting
Squirrels make a wide variety of weird sounds — squeaks, barks, rattles, grunts and buzzing noises. Most of their calls are used as an alarm to warn off predators or to notify other squirrels of danger. They even use their sounds to scold other animals (or humans) for entering their territory.
Chattering sounds communicate hunger, while a slightly higher pitch can be heard when the squirrel is mating or under attack.
Birds Are Not Their Friends
Although squirrels are skittish and fast, plenty of aggressive predators make meals out of these rodents. The biggest threat comes from predatory birds of prey, such as hawks and owls, but even birds like crows will eat blind baby squirrels. Snakes are a considerable threat as well as many reptiles, including alligators, crocodiles, lizards and snapping turtles. Other four-legged mammals also eat squirrels, and in suburban areas, both dogs and cats pose a threat to these rodents.
To throw off their predators, squirrels use their speed to escape and are also known to zig-zag while running to confuse their enemies.
They Were Brought Into Metro Areas
Before the 19th century, there were no squirrels in metropolitan areas such as Central Park, Harvard Square or Lafayette Park. Urban reformers brought in the squirrels to populate the parks since they were a native North American species.
Squirrels also dealt well with humans — not to mention their cute characteristics and funny acrobatics in the trees!
We Can Thank Them for Being Forgetful
Squirrels are little gardeners who help the environment. They forget roughly 10 percent of the nuts they bury (such as acorns and chestnuts), which later grow into trees.
These adorable mammals have accidentally contributed to our nation's forests — it is estimated that squirrels plant millions of trees each year in North America!