Spring is the season of new life, and that includes life for litters of baby squirrels (or kits). But exactly when do squirrels have babies? And how and when does the mating season come into full swing?
In this article, we cover the lifecycle of tree squirrels, from mating season to adulthood, and everything in between!
When is a Squirrel’s Mating Season?
Not all types of squirrels will have the same mating season, but for tree squirrels, such as the gray squirrel, red squirrel, and fox squirrel, the mating season is twice per year. Mating for North American tree squirrels occurs once in the winter (from January to February) and once in the summer (from June to July).
Squirrels do not mate for life, and male squirrels will compete with one another to mate with the female. Once the female squirrel is pregnant, and even after she has given birth, the male squirrel will not stick around the pregnant female or help raise the young.
When Do Squirrels Have Babies?
Unlike many mammals, the gestation periods for mother squirrels are only a little over a month — anywhere from 38 to 46 days. Tree squirrels will birth as few as 2 kits or as many as 8 kits per mating period. Generally, a mother squirrel will have between 2 and 4 at a time.
If a female squirrel mates between January and February, you can expect her to give birth around March or early April. If she mates between June and July, you can expect a new litter of kits around August or early September.
Where Do Squirrels Give Birth?
Squirrels will give birth in the nests they’ve created. These nests can be found in a thick cluster of branches (leaf nests), inside holes and crevices in trees, and sometimes (at the displeasure of the owner), in the attic or other areas of a home. A squirrel nest that is made in trees are constructed at very high altitudes with twigs and leaves, and will only have one entrance to protect the mother and her young from the elements, as well as potential predators.
During the summer, it’s more likely that female squirrels will give birth in their nests that they’ve made in trees. During the winter is when homeowners may need to worry about mother squirrels coming into quiet, secluded areas of their home to give birth and nurse their young.
How Long Do Kits Depend on Their Mothers?
When kits are born, they are completely helpless without the care of their mother. They’re hairless and both blind and deaf, requiring attentive care from their mother to keep warm (if born in the winter), and protection from predators. Mother squirrels are extremely protective of their kits and will become violent when predators, people, and even other squirrels get too close.
A baby squirrel will begin to be weaned off of their mother’s milk at 7 to 10 weeks old, but, as a young squirrel, will still be dependent upon their mother for a few weeks after leaving the nest to learn survival skills necessary for adulthood.
What to Do if You Find a Baby Squirrel
Occasionally, a kit will fall from the nest or accidentally be left behind as the mother moves her litter from their nest to a new location.
If you run across a baby squirrel at the base of a tree or in the grass without their mother, you may need to intervene. But before you fix a comfy little shoebox for your new squirrel friend, you should attentively listen to your surroundings as you approach the infant squirrel.
If you hear chattering or “barking” from the mother as you come nearer to her baby, leave the kit alone. The mother will come for it once you’re gone. On the other hand, if you don’t hear chattering from the mother, it’s time to take the kit into your own hands.
In the following sections, we’ll cover step-by-step what you should do if you find an infant squirrel.
Step 1: Get a Shoebox (or Open Container) and Place an Old Towel Inside
A shoebox is a safe, enclosed space for the infant squirrel to lay in. By placing an old towel inside of the box, you’ll be providing the baby squirrel a soft place to lay.
Do not put water or food inside of the box to prevent other animals from disrupting the box or causing potential harm to the baby squirrel.
Step 2: Put Uncooked Rice or Birdseed in a Sock and Warm
Putting uncooked rice or birdseed, tying off the sock, and warming it in the microwave for 30 seconds will keep the infant squirrel warm. Infant squirrels are meant to be with their litter and mother, so without their family, they will chill quickly. Ensure that the sock is completely closed off so that the seeds and rice don’t fall out.
Step 3: Place the Baby Squirrel Inside the Box and Return It
Very gently pick the baby squirrel up and place it inside the padded and warmed box or open container. Then, place it near the tree you found the baby squirrel by. If you didn’t find a squirrel near a tree, or you don’t know which tree is their nesting tree, place the box at the base of the tree that was nearest to the squirrel when you found it.
If the baby squirrel’s eyes are open, gently set the squirrel on the tree trunk to see if it will climb. If it won’t, it’s best to attach the box or container with the baby to the trunk. If the eyes are not open, it’s best if you attach the box to the tree where it’s not so close to the ground (to avoid predators or other potential injuries to the squirrel).
Step 4: Keep an Eye On the Baby Squirrel
Watch the box and the baby squirrel for the next 6 to 8 hours, ensuring that you reheat the sock every 2 hours to keep it warm. If the mother does not show up for her baby, you may want to consider taking the infant squirrel to a wildlife rehabilitation center.
For more on what to do if you find a baby squirrel, check out this guide by The Wildlife Center of Virginia.
If You Find a Family of Squirrels in Your Home…
Sometimes, and especially during the winter months, pregnant female squirrels will nest in secluded areas of homes. Attics are quiet, warm, dark places for squirrels to give birth and raise their young. If you’ve noticed loud noises in your attic, and suspect that your squirrel guest has nested and given birth to a litter of kits, you have a few options for removal:
- Wait until the kits leave the nest, then relocate the mother. Baby squirrels will leave the nest between 7 and 10 weeks of age. Once the babies leave on their own, you can then set up a humane bait trap to catch and relocate the mother to the backyard, near her juvenile litter. If, after 10 weeks, you’re still hearing an abundance of noise, you may want to resort to a professional’s help.
- Call a professional to relocate the family of squirrels. Calling a professional will ensure that both the kits and the mother squirrel are captured and relocated safely. You’ll also be minimizing the risk of removal and potential attacks from the mother on you or your family.
It’s best not to handle a litter of squirrel kits on your own. If you want to avoid any accidental harm coming to the kits, it’s ideal to wait until they’ve left the nest and can care for themselves. Mother squirrels can become extremely protective over their kits, which may lead to an attack on you or your family. If you don’t want to wait, opt for calling the professionals for removal and relocation.
Sealing Your Home
Once the family of squirrels has been removed from your attic or another secluded area of your home or property, you’ll want to seal off the area to prevent further nesting. Check your attic for cracks in the roof, windows, or beams. Seal any holes off with wooden boards and nails or with caulk. You’ll also want to check other areas of your home, even areas that are frequently lived-in for holes, and seal them off, too.
If you have open chimneys that often go unused, be sure to seal them off, as well, as these are a common entry point for squirrels.
To prevent squirrels from coming to your property in droves, refrain from having birdseed or squirrel feeders or pools of water near your home. The easy food source will attract not only squirrels but other potential pests, as well.
So, when do squirrels have babies? Squirrels have a very short gestation period compared to other mammals, mate twice per year, and will typically give birth to 2, 3, or 4 kits at a time (but can have up to 8 per litter).
A juvenile squirrel will remain with their mother until they’re weaned between 7 and 10 months of age and will stay close to their mother’s nest to learn essential life skills as they continue to grow.