Many people wonder about the hibernating habits of gray squirrels, but the truth is, they don’t hibernate.
They stay in their homes for a few days during cold spells, eating from the supply of seeds they have stored. When milder weather returns, they are out again looking for food and sunning themselves in sheltered spots.
The eastern gray squirrel grows to about 18 inches long, including its bushy tail, and weighs about a pound. The critter’s soft fur becomes long and dense in winter. Albino and melanistic gray squirrels pop up. Sometimes these mutations, partial or complete, are so common that they affect the dominant color phase in an area.
They usually have home ranges of about 2 acres, but some squirrels change their homes for food. They may roam over a 5-mile area. For this reason, squirrels that raid gardens or for some other reason are a nuisance and are live-trapped should be moved at least 5 miles.
Their home is in hardwood forests and forests where deciduous trees are mixed with pines and other conifers. They will also live in city parks and suburbs with food and den sources. Natural holes in older trees probably give the most protection in winter and may become a den that shelters as many as six or seven. Leaf nests are an option, too, built close to the tree trunk in a fork or on a strong limb 30 to 50 feet above the ground.
Jim Gilbert has taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.