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Squirrel in tree looking down at camera
Gray Squirrel © Gerry Keyhoe

Squirrel Dreys: A Different Kind of Nest

November 07, 2023

As the trees lose their foliage, you may begin to notice large, round clumps of leaves in the branches. These are squirrel nests—also known as dreys.

In Massachusetts, Eastern Gray Squirrels, Red Squirrels, and Northern and Southern Flying Squirrels all make dreys.

Eastern Gray Squirrel Nests

Eastern grays are large squirrels that thrive in urban and suburban environments. Not surprisingly, they make the biggest, most obvious nests. These structures can be a foot or two wide and are usually located 20 feet or higher up a tree that provides good squirrel food, like an acorn-bearing oak. For stability, they’re built near the trunk or at the fork of two strong branches.

These scraggly-looking nests consist of leafy branches, with an inner layer of soft material like moss and pine needles. The squirrels enter the drey through a hole facing the trunk.

Squirrel nest in tree
Squirrel Drey

If you think that a ball of leaves in a tree sounds like a chilly place to spend the winter, you’re right. Eastern Gray Squirrels use dreys in summer, but they prefer to spend the cold months in a more protected place, like a tree cavity or an attic (we’ve got tips for dealing with squirrels in your house). If such permanent shelter isn’t available, they’ll stick with a drey, often gathering together to conserve heat.

Eastern Gray Squirrels use nests for shelter and warmth, especially at night, but they don’t hibernate in them—in fact, they don’t hibernate at all! They stay active year-round, searching for food that they hid during warmer weather. Also, one of their two mating seasons is in January and February.

Other Squirrel Nests

Red Squirrels, which enjoy nibbling on pinecones, will often build their dreys in conifers. Like eastern grays, they’re active in the winter, and they also prefer tree cavities and other more permanent shelters during the cold months—but they’ll make do with tree nests if they have to.

The shy, secretive Northern and Southern Flying Squirrels also stay in dreys when cavities are scarce. They’ll either build their own or use an abandoned bird’s nest or other squirrel’s nest.

Look Out for Squirrel Dreys

So, next time you're out exploring, take a closer look at the trees around you to see if you can find a squirrel drey. What can you infer from the nest's, location, condition, and neighbors?

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