While you may see them less in winter than in other seasons, squirrels remain active. Winter brings competition for food and shelter as squirrels must draw upon stored reserves. Approximately 25 percent of squirrels do not make it through their first year, but those that do tend to thrive for several years.
Even when it's cold out, squirrels need to eat. They look to communal stores of mast -- nut fruits such as acorns -- for calories and fat to see them through the winter. Squirrels can also eat bugs, bird eggs, soil, mushrooms and animal bones, and may find some of this food in winter. Squirrels drink water twice a day and will eat snow to remain hydrated during winter.
Squirrels don't hibernate in winter, but tend to remain in their nests or dens when temperatures fall below 30 degrees Fahrenheit or when weather turns windy or stormy. Interior or den nests provide greater insulation than exposed leaf nests, so squirrels generally seek these out for winter. In warmer winter weather, squirrels will leave the nest to eat.
Maintain Fat Reserves
To make it through the winter, a squirrel must maintain a fatty insulation layer. If he loses too much of this fat, the squirrel may not survive winter. A squirrel may decide to risk a foraging trip if he thinks that he will obtain more energy via fatty foods than he will expend in searching for food. During these excursions, squirrels must evade predators including owls, hawks and foxes.
While it may seem like an unnecessary energy expense in the winter, squirrels mate during this season. January matings produce a litter of squirrels around March. Squirrels also mate in the spring, resulting in a summer-born litter that must be weaned and ready for independent life by wintertime.
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