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How Do Squirrels Have Babies?

Kristie Leong M.D. is a family practitioner with a strong background in nutrition.

Squirrels are among the most common rodents in the world. They live on every continent except Antarctica and are known for their bushy tails, distinctive markings, and acorn-hoarding habits. Squirrels are small mammals in the family of Sciuridae.

The squirrel family includes tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, marmots (including woodchucks), flying squirrels, and prairie dogs. Squirrels have slender bodies with bushy tails and large eyes and are quite recognizable along trails, parks, and neighborhoods where they hang out.

Despite this widespread prevalence, squirrels remain one of nature's most mysterious creatures. How do they make all those babies and what do the babies look like when they first arrive? Here's what we know about how squirrels have babies.

Female Squirrels Give Birth Twice a Year

Squirrels give birth to their young once or twice per year. The most common times are in the early spring (February through April) and late summer. (August and September).

Squirrels usually have two litters per year but may have only one litter or as many as three. Interestingly, studies show that squirrels will adopt orphan squirrels if they’re closely related to them and treat them as their own.

They Are Pregnant for Up to 6 Weeks

Female squirrels are pregnant for 4 to 6 weeks before giving birth. The gestation period varies with the species of squirrel. A female squirrel usually gives birth to 3 to 5 babies at a time, although squirrels sometimes produce only a single squirrel or as many as 8 tiny squirrel babies.

Baby squirrels are born hairless and with closed eyes and their ears folded over their heads. Baby squirrels are some of the tiniest animals, being around an inch long from head to rump and weighing only about a half ounce.

Newborn squirrels have pinkish-white skin and a few yellow spots on their bodies. Their ears are small and round and their tail is short, stubby, and black or brown in color. Despite their diminutive size, baby squirrels grow quickly in the first two weeks, but most don't open their eyes until 4 weeks of age. It’s then that they get their first glimpse of the world.

Baby Squirrels Depend on Their Mama During the Nestling Period

During the first weeks of life, baby squirrels depend on the mother squirrel for food, warmth, and protection from predators. This is called the nestling period and they spend it sleeping in a drey, the nest the mother squirrel builds for the comfort and protection of the youngsters. A drey is a soft bed made of leaves, twigs, and moss that the mother squirrel gathers.

Squirrels build their dreys high above the ground in the treetops of trees so that predators can’t easily reach them. Still, baby squirrels have a high mortality rate with only around 20% of baby squirrels making it to their first birthday. Common predators include raccoons, foxes, and owls.

They Are Weaned From Their Mother by 10 Weeks of Age

Mother squirrels wean their babies between 8 and 10 weeks old by feeding them nuts and seeds. Before weaning, they’re dependent on the mother squirrel’s milk. Squirrel milk is high in fat and protein, which is important for the growth of the baby squirrel. The milk also contains chemicals that strengthen the babies' immune systems, helping them stay healthy.

Baby squirrels show interest in the world around them early and may begin to explore by around 6 weeks of age. At this time, they might chew on things like fur and wood chips until their incisors grow in (which happens after about two weeks).

Then they start chomping away at milkweed stems to get their first source of nutrition—milkweed has a high concentration of fats that help keep these little guys alive until they can find solid foods like acorns or nuts later.

Be on the Lookout for Baby Squirrels

How do squirrels have babies? They give birth and care for their young as other mammals do. Now that you know how squirrels have babies, be on the lookout for them. The babies are adorable and fascinating but don’t touch or handle the baby squirrels because they're still developing.

It may seem like common sense not to engage with wildlife, but some people don’t realize this when they encounter baby animals in their yards or neighborhoods. So, if you see a squirrel with babies around it's best to leave them alone! If you find an injured one, call your local wildlife center.