Why Squirrels Come Out At Night (And Which Ones To Look For)

by | Rodents, Squirrels

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When the sun sets and you see shadows that look like squirrels in your trees or you hear noises in your attic, you might be asking yourself if they are squirrels and what they get up to at night. Well, it turns out that not all squirrels take part in the same night-time activities…

All squirrels sleep at night except flying squirrels. Flying squirrels come out every night to look for food, gather nesting materials, play, mate, and take care of their young. Sometimes tree and ground squirrels wake up during the night and leave their nest, but this doesn’t happen very often.

So there are different reasons why squirrels come out at night. Knowing which squirrels are active at night and when will help you to determine what squirrels are in your yard or house, or if it’s something else you need to take care of.

Why squirrels come out at night

To make it easy to understand why squirrels come out at night, let’s separate squirrels into three main groups: ground squirrels, tree squirrels, and flying squirrels.

Ground squirrels spend most of their time on the ground. Tree squirrels spend most of their time in trees. And flying squirrels are tree squirrels that can glide from tree to tree, instead of jumping like regular tree squirrels.

Now let’s explore why you might see these different squirrels out at night.

Why ground and tree squirrels come out at night

Photo of eastern gray squirrel near the feeder at night
This Eastern grey tree squirrel is out at night to raid the squirrel feeder.

If you see something that looks like a squirrel or hear something that sounds like a squirrel at night, it probably isn’t a regular tree or ground squirrel.

Ground and tree squirrels move around during the day and sleep at night. In fact, they’re usually in bed before the sun sets and they sleep for up to 15 hours each day.

In areas with cold winters, ground squirrels hibernate and sleep through most days and nights. In hot desert areas, ground squirrels go into a summer hibernation called “estivation”. This time they sleep through most summer days and nights to save energy, survive the heat, and get by when food is scarce.

Tree squirrels don’t hibernate and keep pretty much the same routine all year round: they sleep at night and are active during the day. They tend to be most active in the early hours of the morning, and get lazier as the midday heat approaches.

During the day, tree and ground squirrels look for foods they can eat and stockpile, play, drink water, mate, and take care of their young. At night, these squirrels stay in their nest whenever possible because many predators that eat squirrels, such as owls and domestic cats, are out hunting in the dark.

But sometimes tree and ground squirrels wake up at night and leave their nest. They could wake up because:

  • Of a bright light
  • There is a loud noise
  • They hear warning calls from other squirrels
  • It gets too hot or too cold in the nest
  • Their babies wake them up
  • They get hungry
  • They get thirsty
  • They need to relieve themselves

When these squirrels wake up at night, they might leave the nest to see what’s happening or to get something they need. Don’t be surprised if you see one of these squirrels staring back at you in the dark.

Why flying squirrels come out at night

Photo of a flying squirrel checking for danger before leaving the nest at night

If you hear noises in your attic or see what looks like squirrels in trees at night, they are most likely flying squirrels or something else completely, like rats.

Flying squirrels sleep during the day. And wherever they choose to sleep, they like to stay at least 15 feet (4.5 m) above the ground…

Flying squirrels usually build their nest in a hole in a large tree trunk or in the branches of a tree, but sometimes they nest in a barn or in the roof of a house when they find a way in. They build and line their nest with pine needles, grass, leaves, bark, twigs, feathers, and moss, to make it soft and warm.

Flying squirrels are tree squirrels so they do not hibernate in winter. These little rodents survive cold weather by huddling together to keep warm.

Their routine stays fairly consistent throughout the year.

Flying squirrels are most active in the hour after sunset and an hour or two before sunrise. This is when they are most likely to leave their nest to look for food, drink water, gather nesting materials, play, mate, and take care of their young (like teaching them how to glide through the air).

These nocturnal squirrels prefer to go outside when it’s very dark, which reduces the chance that they will be seen and eaten by predators. You are more likely to see flying squirrels on nights when the moon isn’t full or when it is hidden by clouds.

In fact, flying squirrels are designed to survive and thrive in the dark:

  • They have an excellent sense of smell, which helps them find food at night.
  • Their eyes are larger than other squirrels, so they can see better in the dark.
  • The wings they have between their front and back paws make it possible for them to quickly glide away from predators, who are out at night looking for something to eat.

If you want to know if flying squirrels are active in your yard at night, look for hard nuts lying on the ground under nut trees. If there are neat circular holes drilled into the nuts where the meat has been taken out, then you have flying squirrels. If there are nuts with untidy holes in them that aren’t in neat circles, you have tree or ground squirrels.

Where squirrels sleep at night

At night, tree squirrels sleep in trees and ground squirrels sleep in the ground.

Let’s look at how they build their nests and where these nests are placed for the best night’s sleep.

Where tree squirrels sleep at night

The most common types of tree squirrels are red squirrels, gray squirrels, and fox squirrels.

Tree squirrels make sure they have two or three nests in their territory to choose from, depending on the weather.

In summer, tree squirrels usually sleep alone in messy nests called dreys. They build these dreys in the forks of tree branches using twigs, damp leaves, vines, and moss.

Photo of a gray squirrel's nest showing it as large and loosely layered

In winter, tree squirrels choose warmer nests to sleep in. These winter nests are usually built inside a hole in a tree trunk and are called dens, but they will also build a nest in a covered area where they feel sheltered from the weather, like the roof of a house.

Tree squirrels are in bed before sunset and wake up around sunrise.

Where ground squirrels sleep at night

Ground squirrels sleep in sleeping chambers inside underground burrows. They make their burrows, or tunnels, by digging into a hillside or straight down into the ground.

These squirrels spend their nights sleeping inside their burrow and hibernate here in winter too, where they sleep through the cold days and nights.

Ground squirrels that live in very hot climates, such as a desert, won’t hibernate in winter but they often hibernate in summer. During the hottest months, these ground squirrels sleep through most days and nights to survive the rising temperatures.

When awake during the day, ground squirrels stay within 150 yards (140 m) of their burrow. They spend their days finding food to eat, lying in the sun, dust-bathing, and grooming themselves. These squirrels are most active from mid-morning to late afternoon, before going back to their burrow to prepare for sleep.

How to get rid of flying squirrels in your house

Flying squirrels are protected in many areas and should never be harmed or killed. If they are active in your garden at night, it’s best to leave them alone.

If you have flying squirrels in your house, you probably want to get them out before they cause any serious damage. Below are the best tips and products from Amazon to get flying squirrels out of a home:

  • Stop attracting hungry flying squirrels to your yard by removing bird feeders and squirrel feeders.
  • Keep your gutters and roof edge clean so the fascia, soffit and roof don’t rot and become weak. If this happens, flying squirrels can chew right through them with their strong front teeth and access your house.
  • Put a metal drip edge on your roof. A drip edge is secured under the first row of shingles and hangs over the fascia board. This drip edge stops squirrels from making holes between the shingles and the fascia.
  • If flying squirrels have already moved in, they probably have a few holes they climb in and out of. Check every area of the roof very carefully and close each hole with aluminum flashing, except the biggest hole or the one they use most often. Put a one-way exclusion door on the open hole, so the squirrels can get out but can’t get back in. Wait several days, then check the roof or attic to make sure all the squirrels are gone. Now you can seal the final hole with aluminum flashing too, so the squirrels can’t chew their way back in. Don’t use this method if there are babies in the nest in early spring or mid-summer as the mother will find her way back in to get her young.
  • You could also trap the flying squirrels and relocate them if state laws allow this.
  • Put a good-quality flying squirrel nesting box in a nearby tree, to encourage the flying squirrels to leave your house and move into the tree. Their natural instinct is to live high up in trees, so they might move out willingly.
  • Spray the entry holes and the nesting area in your house with this all-natural squirrel repellent, to stop the flying squirrels from coming back and prevent new squirrels from moving in.

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