Last updated on October 24th, 2023 at 07:57 pm
When the outside temperatures drop, frost spreads and snow makes the winter landscape, the way of life of squirrels also changes. While in spring and summer they agilely run and hop through nature, in autumn they prepare for the cold winter season. To make winter easier for them, learn how squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) spend the winter and how you can help make sure they survive it well.
Sciurus vulgaris do not hibernate during the cold season and do not go into hibernation, but only live through the cold months in hibernation.
Only cold-blooded animals in the wild are affected by hibernation. Their body temperature drops to almost zero degrees Celsius so that they can adapt to the outside temperatures as best as possible. In this way they escape the so-called cold death.
Since the squirrel is not a cold-blooded animal, it does not go into hibernation without eating and becoming physically motionless. In contrast to the change-warm animal species, numerous mammals as well as birds fall into hibernation. This is needed to also lower the body temperature, but only by a few degrees Celsius. The situation is different for tree foxes.
Because they keep their body temperature in the cold season almost at the same level as in the other seasons, their body reacts differently and only needs hibernation to survive the winter. As the term hibernation suggests, these are periods of rest that are distinguished from hibernation and rigor mortis by brief interruptions.
When the time comes, squirrels in the wild must go into hibernation in order to survive the cold outside temperatures.
This comes about as these animals significantly downshift their otherwise lively activity. As a result, despite a constant body temperature of approximately 37 degrees Celsius and a normal
respiratory rate, to a reduction in the function of the metabolism and the heartbeat is slowed down.
This reduces their energy requirements to a minimum, which means they need less food. This means they can’t go completely without food, as is the case during hibernation or winter torpor. Therefore, even in winter, their body system forces them to eat every few days.
When particularly cold winter days or freezing storms accompany the day, the oak kitty often goes without eating even for days. The organs are protected from the cold by a thick, dense winter coat.
As a species of animal that goes into hibernation during the winter season, the tree fox needs food every now and then to provide at least a little energy to the body.
For this purpose, the squirrel already builds its own stores in the fall. They usually bury these deep, often up to 60 centimeters, in the ground or in hidden tree cavities.
Instinctively, they usually know how large a supply they need to survive the winter season. It only becomes critical if the winter is particularly hard and long or the little jays can no longer find their supplies.
The latter happens quite often, which is why the mortality rate of squirrels is highest in winter due to lack of food. Since the body system is still active, albeit in a greatly reduced form, the body needs food to supply energy from outside. Food is the only way to ensure that the body system is maintained and that the functionality of the organs can continue throughout winter dormancy.
Most of the time, the squirrel finds its previously hidden and collected winter food. However, not always, which is why some do not survive the winter. Especially when ice, snow and cold drag on during this season, food supplies are not always sufficient. This makes your help all the more important by providing food for the Sciurus vulgaris.
You should distribute this daily near trees, bushes, and shrubs, as these are
are the main places where the oak catkin will predominantly hide winter stores and will accordingly forage there. It is sufficient if you simply lay out the food in one spot. The oak catkins have an excellent sense of smell and will quickly find the trail to the new food source.
Once the surface-lying food is found, the tree fox will usually remember the feeding site and return whenever it needs food. Therefore, it is advisable to always place food in the same spot(s).
- Suitable feeders are:
- Seeds of pine cones
- Fruits apples or pears
- Sunflower and pumpkin seeds
- Flower buds
When supplemental feeding, make sure that the food is not salted or otherwise seasoned. This is not tolerated by the body of the small rodents and could possibly lead to life-threatening health damage.
TIP: Do not remove food if it is still there after days and has not been eaten. Depending on weather conditions, arboreal foxes may not leave their wintering grounds for several days. This makes it all the more important for them to be able to find food quickly afterwards.
Especially in urban areas, where there are no forests or many trees to be found, treefoxes have a harder time finding optimal hiding places for their winter supplies. In addition, the food supply for gathering supplies is much more limited. Here, you should also not neglect to provide food sources for the bushy furred animals. In the home garden, simply spread the food over the ground at a safe distance from any sources of disturbance, such as major roads or a dog kennel.
On the balcony, you can optimally distribute nuts or small cut fruit on the ground in balcony plant boxes between winter plants. You can also put the food in a bird feeder. Here the squirrel will find its food uncomplicated, but usually to the detriment of birds that shy away from the squirrel.
In addition, you can help these animals with food if you take a handful with you on your Sunday winter walk in the park and put it out there.
TIP: Especially in the city, place an additional bowl of water next to the scattered food. Where there is a lot of asphalt and straight plains, puddles collect much less than in the countryside and the water supply is usually limited here.
For winter quarters, the squirrel builds between two and eight nests, called goblets, in early fall. The nests are usually built at a height of at least six meters. For the construction they use fine branches, leaves as well as pine needles as a base, while they furnish the interior with feathers, moss and/or grass. They also often use old bird nests or abandoned cavities previously occupied by woodpeckers.
They form their nests as a sphere with a hole pointing upward and with an interior bulge or cavity into which they can lie. They have an internal diameter of between 15 centimeters and 20 centimeters. Unlike birds’ nests, squirrels’ nests also have a loophole in the lower part, as they enter the nest from below. The winter quarters are nearly waterproof and provide good protection from the cold due to a close-meshed structure.
While one nest is used for the usually days-long period of hibernation, a second is needed for daytime residence during breaks in rest. All other nests are built for the purpose of evasion. If a used nest is soiled with parasites or similar, if a danger has unexpectedly appeared in the environment or if a nest has been damaged, the squirrels always have several spare nests for emergencies. Also for the possible still young offspring a Kobel is built for their protection.
It takes this species between three and five days to build a gobel. The squirrel is a loner, which is why it basically inhabits a nest alone.
Where forests and large stands of trees are scarce, people make it increasingly difficult for squirrels to build their nests and hibernate in their gardens. This is due to the fact that many amateur gardeners cut back their trees, shrubs and hedges heavily in the fall so that they will sprout vigorously again next spring. In this way, they increasingly deprive the animals of habitat for the winter period, which can become a problem for the rodents, especially in cities or densely built-up residential areas.
It is also often forgotten that the oak cats are an important factor for nature. Since they almost always forget some storage places, in which there are also seeds, none of them often in the next spring and thus contribute to nature.
For this reason, in consideration of the tree foxes, you should observe the following:
- Do not cut high tree stands below six meters
- Leave at least one or two dense branches when pruning trees, hedges or shrubs
- Inspect plants for any nests prior to any pruning
- Do not prune branches with nests in them
- Do not remove all needles or foliage in the fall to provide material for nest building
- Do not dispose of pine cones – they serve as a food source
- Carefully reposition old nests into a tall tree if necessary
- Walnut and hazelnut trees attract squirrels
Squirrels only hibernate during the cold winter season, which they interrupt every two to three days, depending on the cold, only to feed. As the cold weather increases and winters get longer and longer, these animals often need the assistance of humans. With only a little effort, you can make the winter time easier for the Sciurus vulgaris, contribute to their survival and do good for nature.