With most of the leaves fallen to the ground by now, you may have looked up into the canopy, noticed the occasional ball of sticks and leaves tucked into the branches of large deciduous trees, and thought, “What enormous bird lives there?”
Believe it or not, you’re probably looking at a squirrel nest, also known as a “drey.” While they often make nests in tree cavities (sometimes called “dens”), squirrels also create sphere-shaped dreys to keep warm and dry while they sleep. Although building material preferences vary by species, squirrels mostly construct their dreys out of branches, twigs, and leaves and line them with softer materials like grass and pine needles, and almost always choose a spot at least 20 feet off the ground.
Squirrels often build more than one drey (in case one is destroyed or becomes otherwise uninhabitable) in the late summer or early fall to use as shelters in the winter. Sometimes mother squirrels will use dreys for having and raising young in the summer (they produce broods twice each year, once in winter and once in summer), but more often they prefer tree cavities, which are more protected from hungry predators like raccoons, for sheltering their pups.
Here are five photos of industrious squirrels from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest.