When do squirrels have babies?

Updated


Have you ever seen two squirrels chasing one another across your yard or up and down trees? They’re not merely playing; they’re flirting! The male squirrels are pursuing the females to mate with them, and afterward, the females will give birth to 2-8 baby squirrels.

Squirrel Mating: Mother Lures, Father Pursues

When a female squirrel is approximately one year old, and the weather starts warm from winter to spring, she will begin to emit specific pheromones and make chirping noises. These scents and sounds attract male squirrels and alert them that a female is fertile. Males are fertile all year round, but females only once or twice a year, so the males become very excited when they hear and smell a female ready to produce young.

The males in the area will seek out the female and then chase her for the opportunity to mate with her. If two males are pursuing her at the same time, they will fight each other for the chance. Older male squirrels are normally larger and so will win the fight against a younger male. Most squirrels, with the exception of Red squirrels, are non-territorial, so this is the only time they will act aggressively toward one another. Even in this case, however, the squirrels do not injure one another. They merely chase and try to intimidate one another until one submits and flees the scene.

Once a male catches up with and wins the undisturbed opportunity to mate with the female (mating only takes about a minute), he finishes by ejaculating a waxy plug into the female’s vagina. This plug prevents the sperm of other males from impregnating her, though it can fail, and one litter can be produced by multiple fathers.

The female will continue to attract males with her pheromones and chirping for about two weeks to ensure that she is pregnant. After a male has mated with her, he might return to her to mate again but will not be involved with her during her pregnancy or afterward. He has no other role to play than mating with her to produce young.

It is essential that the female produce these pheromones and vocalizations because squirrels are color-blind. They see everything in shades of black, white, and gray, and squirrels do not mate with other species of squirrels. An Eastern gray squirrel does not mate with an American red squirrel, nor does a Northern flying squirrel mate with a Fox squirrel. They rely on scent, sound, size, and fur markings to help them know and mate with their own species.

Squirrel Mating Seasons and Identifying Your Squirrels

The five most common squirrel species in America are the Eastern gray, the American red, the Fox squirrel, Northern flying, Southern flying, and Ground squirrel. You can identify each by sight, and they each have slightly different mating habits.

Eastern gray squirrels are gray or silver with a white belly. They are about 18-20 inches long, including their tail. Some are all white (albino) and others are all black. They are common in the Eastern United States, meaning east of the Mississippi River. They like to live in nut-bearing trees and will build their nests out of sticks and other materials on tree branches or in hollowed cavities of tree trunks. They’ll take over holes that a woodpecker made or damaged areas where a tree branch fell off as long as it’s high enough off the ground to protect them from foxes, coyotes, snakes, and other predators. The ideal height for a squirrel nest is 40-60 feet off the ground. Eastern gray squirrels commonly breed in late winter or early spring, and then again in the middle of summer.

American red squirrels can be found all over the United States. They are smaller than gray squirrels, about 9-10 inches long, with reddish-brown fur and a white underbelly. They grow tufts of fur on their ears in the winter and like to make their nests in conifer (evergreen) trees rather than leafy deciduous trees. You can also tell if you have Red squirrels in your area if you find a large cache of nuts hidden in a hollowed log or in the ground. They do not hide nuts one by one but in a large pile. They will also chase other squirrels out of their territory, even if the other squirrels are larger. They mate twice per year in late winter and mid-summer, but the females are only fertile one day each breeding season. The male who mates with her will do so multiple times in a row to ensure that she becomes pregnant on that one day.

Fox squirrels are very similar to Gray squirrels but have spread from the eastern to central states. The difference in appearance is that Fox squirrels have reddish-gray fur with orange-tinted bellies. They mate most often in January and only bear one litter per year.

Flying squirrels are nocturnal while others are active during the day. They are 8-10 inches long, the same size as Red squirrels, and have grayish-brown fur with white undersides. You can tell if you have Flying squirrels by tapping on the trunks of your trees with a stick. The sleeping fliers will poke their heads out of the nests to see what all the racket is about and to determine if they need to escape to a safer location. Southern flying squirrels breed in late winter or early spring and then again during the summer months. Squirrels of the Northern variety only breed during the first period. You can tell the difference between the two because Southern fliers live in deciduous trees while Northern fliers live in conifers. Northern flying squirrels are also a little darker in color.

Ground squirrels live in… the ground! This family of species includes marmots, prairie dogs, groundhogs, and chipmunks. They burrow in hidden holes in the ground and live in a broader community than other species. Squirrels that often rise up on their hind legs are most likely ground squirrels. They breed in the early spring.

Besides Red squirrels, most species do not compete for territory. If there is enough food in a given area, they are happy to live nearby, even sharing space with other species. If you enjoy watching the squirrels, you can encourage them to live in your yard and grow their population with specially made squirrel feeders . It might be fun to see how many varieties of squirrels you can attract.

Squirrel Gestation Periods and Habits

A squirrel gestation period (the time that they are pregnant) lasts less than a month to a month and a half. An Eastern gray squirrel’s gestation period is 44 days; an American red’s 40 days; a Fox squirrel’s 45 days; a Flying squirrel’s 40 days; and a Ground squirrel’s gestation period is 25-30 days.

During the squirrel’s gestation period, the female continues to find food for herself and maintain her nest. She will hide food away for the coming months while also eating enough for her growing babies and to build up her own nutrients for nursing them once they are born. She will be very busy as the male squirrels do not assist her. Though squirrels are friendly with one another, they do not usually live in community. The exceptions to this rule are Ground squirrels, who are very communally oriented, and when squirrels choose to nest together for warmth. Even then, however, they do not share food resources. Each squirrel is expected to find their own. A female squirrel might also choose to build a new nest during this time if she deems her current location unsuitable or risky for young ones.

Squirrel Childbearing: Litter Size and Caring for Young

How many babies can a squirrel have? Most species have 3 or 4 babies at a time, but they could have as many as 9, and Ground squirrels could have up to 15 at one time!

Eastern gray squirrels give birth to their young in late winter or early spring and then again in July or August. They have anywhere from 2-9 babies in their nest. The babies will be pink with no fur, and their eyes will be closed. The mother will keep them warm and nurse them for about 2 months before they are ready to start climbing and venture out of the nest. Even then, she will help them gather food for approximately one more month until they are ready to leave her and build their own nests. Once they leave in the spring, she will rest for a few weeks and then signal again that she is fertile. Males will chase her and the cycle will start again. Giving birth to a new litter in the summer months will allow her enough time to nurse them as they grow fur and become independent for the coming winter season.

American red squirrels have their babies in the nests in late spring or early summer. They usually have 3-6 babies at a time, but can have up to 8 in one litter. They also will nurse their babies for about two months and then might or might not have a second litter before winter. Red squirrels in northern states tend to not have another litter later in the year to better protect potential young from a harsh winter. Their counterparts in southern states will have a second litter as the winters of their environment are less severe.

Fox squirrels give birth in the later part of February or during the first week of March. They can have 2-7 babies with most litters only being about 2-4 in number. They nurse their young in their nests for the typical 2-month period but then do not have another litter until the next year.

Flying squirrels have 2-7 babies twice per year. They bear the first litter in late spring or early summer and the second in early autumn. Most litters are made up of 2, 3, or 4 little ones that they will raise for two months.

Ground squirrels are the most prolific breeders. They usually have 7 or 8 babies at one time but can have as many as 15. Their numbers are controlled by the fact that they only breed once per year in late winter or early spring.

Baby squirrels are utterly helpless during the first 4-6 weeks of their life. The mother will spend her time nursing them every 3-4 hours, grooming them, keeping them warm, gathering her own food, and ensuring that the nest is safe from predators and human activity. She will often build a second nest in case of danger and carry the young one by one to a new location if she senses a problem.

How Many Babies Can a Squirrel Have?

A squirrel reaches sexual maturity at 10-12 months. At this age, the males and females are fertile and can begin mating. A female, however, will not have more than one litter the first year of her adult life. When she is two years old, a female will have two litters per year if her species follows a semi-annual breeding pattern.

Squirrels typically live 2-3 years but can live up to 10 years. If a female squirrel has an average of 3 babies at a time, twice per year except for the first year, that means that each squirrel will have 6-54 babies in her lifetime. Fox squirrels and American red squirrels that only breed once per year will have half this many (3-27). Ground squirrels could have 7-80 based on their average litter size. That’s a lot of squirrels!

Facts:

To sum up what we’ve learned, here are some general facts to remember.

  • Squirrels breed once or twice per year.
  • They mate in the early spring, and some breed again in the summer.
  • Squirrels are pregnant for 25-45 days.
  • They have their babies in nests in trees or in holes in the ground.
  • The babies do not have any fur, can’t open their open eyes, and can walk for about a month.
  • The mother takes care of the baby squirrels by herself for three months.
  • Female squirrels have one litter their first year and usually two after that for up to 10 years.
  • Most squirrels have 3 or 4 babies at a time, but Ground squirrels have 7 or 8.

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