Do Squirrels Search for Food at Night?

Seeing shadows darting across the yard at night can be a little unnerving. Many rodents and mammals lurk around at night and live as nocturnal creatures. It can be hard to see which animals are in our yards at night and if they are causing problems, it can be hard to keep them out.

When grey squirrels and other animals visit our bird feeders at night, we tend to be unable to stop them since those are the hours most humans sleep. Are there some types of squirrels that hunt at night? Do all squirrels wake up and leave their nests at night, and if so, why? Let’s find out!

When Do Squirrels Search for Food?

Most squirrels search for food during the day. Ground squirrels and tree squirrels do most of their activities in the early morning and late afternoon. Ground Squirrels build underground burrows, search for food and water, play, and mate during the day. Tree squirrels do the same, except they build nests and not burrows. Both of these squirrels sleep at night.

Another type of squirrel is the flying squirrel. This species of squirrel is active at night and will leave the nest to hunt for food in the dark. It is in the family of tree squirrels and not ground squirrels and prefers nests made of leaves to dens. These gray squirrels have small bodies and glide from tree to tree.

Types Of Squirrels

The time of day squirrels eat depends on the type of squirrel it is. They all forage, but each has to be aware of their own predators. Ground squirrels must be aware of cats and dogs. Tree squirrels have different predators high up, and flying squirrels can be caught by nocturnal hunters.

Ground Squirrels

These are long-bodied grey or brown squirrels with long bushy tails. Some can have a reddish coat, and they live underground. They dig burrows and spend their time resting there. During extreme summer heat and cold winter months, ground squirrels like to hibernate in their dens.

These squirrels are playful and fast. You will often see them in parks and fields, and are common in yards. They do most of their activities during the day and don’t usually leave their nests at night.

Tree Squirrels

Tree squirrels are also only active during the day. They usually spend the morning running around and then retreat to their trees by mid-afternoon. They build nests in tree holes to spend the cold weather months in winter.

Tree squirrels love to jump onto your bird feeders and can cause problems if they get too bold. They are best kept at bay with a predator pet, either a dog or cat, in your yard.

Flying Squirrels

These small squirrels are completely nocturnal. They have strong teeth and can chew their way into your attics. They are protected species in most places, so it is best to give them places to live vs. trying to keep them away from your yard.

Flying squirrels prefer leaving their nest when it is pitch black as they are adapted to need less light than predators see. They can forage and build nests without being seen by owls and cats. They are much smaller than ground squirrels and other tree squirrels.

When Do Squirrels Wake Up?

Squirrel at Night

Ground Squirrels and Tree Squirrels wake up in the morning with the sun and do most of their business before mid-day. Flying squirrels become active when after midnight when most predators have already hunted, and they are the least visible.

During hot summers, cold winters, and bad weather, the different types of squirrels may not leave their nests for a while. This is why they spend so much of their outside time collecting, hiding, and storing food. Even though their schedules are pretty consistent, sometimes squirrels wake up at night.

Reasons Squirrels Might Wake Up at Night

There are several reasons why squirrels that sleep at night may wake up suddenly. In most cases, the squirrels will go back to sleep, but just like us, they may use the disturbance as a chance to use the bathroom or grab a midnight snack.

  • Bright Lights – Lights like headlights, emergency lights, or automatic outdoor lights can wake up squirrels at night. These lights can confuse squirrels into thinking it is the day, and they may come out to investigate.
  • Loud Noises – A sudden loud noise will cause squirrels to wake up in the middle of the night. Depending on the nature of the sound, they may stay in their nests/dens and hide or come out to see what is going on.
  • Late Night Munchies – Some squirrels that visit a yard with a daytime guard may raid the bird feeder at night when the cat or dog is off duty. This uninterrupted meal can help squirrels that have just come out of hibernation or are in need of a big meal fast.

Tips to Co-Exist with Squirrels

Since removing squirrels and trying to keep them out can be exhausting, it can be better to just learn to live with them. By taking time to identify what types of squirrels you have, you can begin to figure out what they want and how to help them.

If you take the time to help the ground, tree, and flying squirrels that want to be yard neighbors, you can figure out how to keep them where you want them and away from where you don’t. This is the beginning of co-existing with nature in a sustainable way!

Type of SquirrelWhat It DoesHow to Remove ItHow To Help It
GroundDigs holes and disturbs gardensWire mesh or squirrel repellentGive it access to a bird feeder away from your garden
TreePlants nuts and scattered bird feeder seedGrease poles, squirrel repellentLeave yard debris in the fall so squirrels can build warm nests
FlyingNests in atticsSeal holes and let leave, then seal the last entranceBuild a flying squirrel box for shelter high in a tree instead of in your house