Herds, packs, colonies, and many, many more: we humans have created all kinds of names for groups of animals! But if you’ve ever observed a group of squirrels interacting with one another, you may have wondered if there’s a specific name you should use to refer to them collectively. Read on as we explore what a group of squirrels is actually called and why, as well as the sort of dynamics involved with these adorable rodents’ group behaviors, social structures, and more.
Squirrel Groups: Scurries and Drays
The most commonly used term for a group or gathering of squirrels is a scurry. According to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the word “scurry” as a verb was in 1810. It has Old English roots, and it essentially had the same meaning as it does today: to move at a brisk or hurried pace. It’s unknown when exactly the word “scurry” later evolved into a term for a gathering of squirrels. However, people likely first used it to describe the way squirrels tend to move in a frantic, speedy way before eventually adapting the term into a noun.
It’s worth noting, though, that “scurry” is not the only word for a group of squirrels! Specifically, a scurry is a group of unrelated squirrels interacting with one another. Another term for describing families of related squirrels is “drey,” sometimes also with the alternative spelling “dray.” This word originally referred to the nests of common tree squirrels and flying squirrels. The term also can refer to ringtail possum nests.
Squirrels typically make their dreys out of leaves, twigs, and grasses, though they can use a wide range of materials for them. Most commonly, they build them in tree crotches and forks, but they also sometimes build them in elevated spots like attics or signs on the sides of buildings around 15 to 30 feet above ground. As the squirrels build onto them, the dreys become spherical in shape and usually have two entrance holes. Some squirrels build their own dreys, while others will occasionally occupy and build on abandoned dreys left behind by other squirrels.
The word “drey” also has uncertain origins, but it dates back to the 1600s. Like the word “scurry,” it likely evolved into a term for a family of squirrels over time from its original meaning.
Do Squirrels Live in Groups?
Even though two distinct terms for groups of squirrels exist, a gathering of these adorable rodents is actually a rather rare sight. This is because most species of squirrels are solitary and quite territorial in nature, so they generally eat and live alone.
The only time squirrels tend to congregate or interact with one another is during their mating seasons. Depending on the species, this can be during the winter months of December through February or during the late summer months of June through August.
Some species mate twice a year, while others only mate once annually. After mating, a male and female squirrel will often share a drey with one another. This is especially common during the winter when dreys can protect them from freezing temperatures, rain, and snow. Additionally, a handful of certain species that are more social like the gray squirrel can live in multi-family dreys, where as many as ten squirrels will share a single nest.
Alternatively, during the warmer months of the year, pregnant female squirrels will sometimes nest alone. Their average gestation time is around three to six weeks, with two to four babies per litter, though they can have as many as eight. Their young stay in the drey with their mother while she looks after them for around six to ten weeks. Once the young reach sexual maturity at around eight to ten months old, they go on to either create their own families and dreys. In some cases, they will even reuse their original nest.
What Kinds of Trees Do Squirrels Nest In?
The most common places groups or families of squirrels build their dreys is in nut-bearing trees like oaks, walnuts, and hickories. This is due to their unique diet, as their bodies are unable to digest cellulose present in many leafy, green plants. They must eat foods high in fats, carbs, and protein, so nesting in trees that produce plenty of nuts and seeds is ideal. If nuts and seeds are scarce, squirrels will also feed on insects and even small birds (and their eggs) if things are especially dire.
As we briefly touched on earlier, ground-dwelling squirrels usually build their dreys at least 15 feet above ground, ideally at least 30 feet. This is primarily a safety measure to keep out predators like snakes, raccoons, and coyotes. Flying squirrels can build their nests even higher, sometimes more than 60 feet off the ground. The size of the drey can vary, but most are around six to ten inches in diameter. Squirrels mainly build their dreys in the forks and crotches of nut-bearing trees. However, tree cavities are also common if they’re elevated enough.
As an additional means of predator-proofing, squirrels will make the entrance and exit holes on their dreys very small and positioned towards the bottom of the drey. This can also help keep rain and snow out of their nests. Finally, they will also insulate the inside of the sphere-shaped drey with a thinner, finer layer of grasses, moss, and leaves. This also keeps the nest safe from the elements and predators.
The exact materials used for the drey can also vary depending on the type of tree the squirrel is nesting in. For example, squirrels nesting in pine trees will use large amounts of pine needles, while those nesting in cedar trees may utilize cedar bark.
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