The leaves are falling, and soon all the branches will be bare. But wait. What are those messy bunches of leaves stuck in the corners? They are most likely the nests of our eastern gray squirrels. Their nests are called dreys.
Don’t let the messy exterior fool you. A squirrel nest is solidly constructed. They start creating a base by weaving twigs. Sometimes an abandoned bird’s nest will be used instead. Once complete, it is packed all around with damp leaves and moss. Then, more twigs are woven to create a dome around the base. This structure is again packed with more damp leaves and moss. The nest is pretty much waterproof.
The inside of a drey is about 8 inches in diameter. This cavity is lined with dry grasses, dry leaves and shredded bark. In urban areas, paper and plastic litter may be used as well.
Words to know
Cavity: An empty space within a solid object.
Inhabit: To live in or occupy.
Reinforce: To strengthen or support, especially with additional material.
Dreys are usually built at least 30 feet high or higher. They are always in a secure spot at the base where branches meet. The only doorway faces the trunk, which helps to keep the rain out. A squirrel will build two or three dreys at a time. One will serve as home base. The others may be used for short naps during the day or as backup if their first home is invaded by a predator or parasite.
Squirrels build dreys in both the summer and the fall. The summer home will have looser construction. In the fall, the summer home is either reinforced or they may start over to build a home strong enough to withstand harsh and windy winters. Some squirrels may choose a tree cavity rather than a drey for the cold winter months. A drey is used only one to two years before it is abandoned.
Most of the time, only one squirrel inhabits a drey. If the winter is extremely cold, two may pair up for extra warmth. And, of course, when babies are born, the pups stay with their mom for at least eight to 10 weeks. There are two litters a year. Two to four pups are born about 40 to 44 days after each breeding season. One litter is born in mid-February to mid-March and then a second late July to mid-September. A tree cavity is used more often for the winter babies, but the drey is just fine for the summer litter.
As you walk and explore this season, keep a look out for dreys. How many can you spot? How many are in your neighborhood? Can you observe other construction materials besides the leaves? Walk to the base of the tree with a squirrel drey. Can you see claw marks or any other evidence that a squirrel lives there?
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