Do Red Squirrels Hibernate?

Squirrels spend a lot of time sleeping in the winter. JACK WALLER

In the middle of winter, when the temperature is freezing and there is lots of snow, it can seem like red squirrels have disappeared. Because of this, when I was growing up I thought red squirrels hibernated. But they actually don’t! They just spend more time sleeping in their drey so they can stay warm and cozy. 

Red Squirrel enjoying a quick snack before returning to its drey to warm up by Jessica Haines.

Squirrels only venture out from their warm dreys to eat. During the summer and fall, squirrels will spend lots of their time storing away food for the winter into a midden, like you store food in your fridge or pantry. In winter, this midden helps squirrels survive because they can go outside for a quick snack, then hurry back to their drey to warm up again. This is why it can seem like they disappear in winter. But they haven’t actually gone into the deep sleep of hibernation. If you happen upon their home and disturb them, they may come out and yell at you as a reminder that they’re still around! But please don’t disturb them on purpose!

What is a drey? Click here to find the answer.

This article originally ran in Nature Alberta Magazine - Fall 2022.