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Gray Squirrel Dreys

12-11-17 squirrel drey IMG_9660

With most deciduous trees having lost their leaves, squirrel nests, or dreys, are more noticeable. Red Squirrels, Eastern Gray Squirrels and Flying Squirrels all build dreys. Those of the Red Squirrel are round, grassy balls, 8” – 10” in diameter. In contrast, Gray Squirrel nests are usually larger and made of sticks and leaves. Flying Squirrel dreys are so high that they are rarely observed.

The dreys most commonly seen are made by Gray Squirrels. Usually 30 or more feet high, these shelters are typically built near the main trunk of the tree, in a crotch where several small branches meet, or on a strong, thick limb. Construction takes place in the summer or early fall, before trees have formed the abcission layers that cause leaves to separate and fall from branches. Therefore, the leaves on a drey’s branches tend to remain for quite some time, forming an effective water-shedding outer layer.

Branches are loosely woven into a foot-wide hollow sphere. The drey is lined with insulating grass, moss, leaves, and shredded bark. Usually there is one entrance/exit hole, facing the trunk (so as to keep rain out). Often squirrels build two dreys, giving themselves another shelter option should one nest be disturbed by a predator or overrun with parasites.

A drey is usually inhabited by one squirrel, but two are known to occupy a single drey in order to keep warm in the winter. Gray Squirrels give birth in late winter and again in the summer. A more protective tree cavity usually serves as a nursery in the winter, and the drey in summer. The average drey is only used for a year or two before it is abandoned.

11 responses

  1. We have Red, Grey and Black squirrels up here in Canada. Their Dreys are the same as the Grey squirrel.

    December 11, 2017 at 8:50 am

  2. Alice Pratt

    Lots of Grays…lots of dreys.

    December 11, 2017 at 8:50 am

  3. jim dougherty

    we so appreciate your informative emails. can you talk about the brown tail moth? thank you



    December 11, 2017 at 8:51 am

    • If I ever have the chance to photograph one, I will, Jim!

      December 11, 2017 at 10:23 am

  4. shielaswett

    I’ve just learned a new word: DREY!!! OK, onward! I do see quite a few of them this time of year, and will now call ’em by their proper name :-))
    Thank you once again, Mary!!

    December 11, 2017 at 8:55 am

  5. Mary Blanton

    Hi Mary,

    A month or so ago you wrote a post about fewer birds at bird feeders, concluding that that wasn’t so. However, I live in Barnard and have been feeding the birds for many many years. I put my feeders up right before Thanksgiving, hoping I was late enough for the bears to be close to hibernating. In the past it has only taken 3 or 4 days for the chickadees especially to discover my feeders. Now it is almost a month later and I have yet to need to refill my 4 feeders. I have seen a couple of chickadees and no blue jays, which surprises me the most. Yesterday I was heartened to see a hairy wood pecker on my suet feeder, but that is the first time I have seen any one there. A neighbor up my dirt road reports the same thing. It is odd to have the woods so quiet as we aren’t even hearing the chickadee’s song or the blue jay’s call. I spoke with a friend who lives closer to Woodstock and she reported the same thing. I thought maybe they didn’t like last year’s black oil sunflower seeds, so I bought a new bag and refilled 2 of my feeders. It did not make a difference.

    Are others reporting the same thing and if so, do you have any idea of what is going on? I miss seeing my little feathered friends. Even the red squirrels seem to be staying away. Many thanks. Mary Blanton

    On Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 8:07 AM, Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: ” With most deciduous trees having lost their leaves, > squirrel nests, or dreys, are more noticeable. Red Squirrels, Eastern Gray > Squirrels and Flying Squirrels all build dreys. Those of the Red Squirrel > are round, grassy balls, 8” – 10” in diameter. In co” >

    December 11, 2017 at 9:15 am

    • Hi Mary,
      I’m afraid I can’t shed any light on the dearth of birds. I, too, am experiencing it, and I cannot believe that something untoward isn’t happening, but I have no scientific proof that it is, just my own observations. Never have I seen a year like this. Even before a storm, there is very little activity at my feeders. Something is amiss, but I don’t know what. So sorry. Will post about it if I learn more.

      December 11, 2017 at 10:21 am

    • I am noticing the same thing here in NH. Very worrisome and yet I keep telling myself they must be finding food somewhere else. There has been a slight uptick in numbers since this weekend’s snow but still, numbers are way down and feeders are not emptying as in years passed.

      December 11, 2017 at 10:29 am

  6. Cecelia Blair

    That is great, specific information! I have wondered if their dreys are really warm enough, and if some squirrels suffer or die of the cold? Squirrels seem to like, or prefer, attics if they are an option. My guess is that in their terms, attics are a variation on the tree cavity and particularly useful for raising young. A lot of us have lived in those houses, cabins or yurts, and heard the romper room sounds in the spring.

    December 11, 2017 at 9:50 am

  7. I learn something new here every drey!
    Really Mary, I just always called these squirrel nests, but now I can call them “dreys”. Which is SO cool!
    And when I share with my friends and family I will sound nerdier than usual!🤓
    Unfortunately, we have red squirrels in our attic now. I guess they prefer it to dreys. (Sure wish they would read your blog and learn to live outdoors like normal squirrels.) Hearing them gnaw in the early morning hours is driving us nuts! Have caught and released several already…

    December 11, 2017 at 10:23 am

  8. Louise Garfield

    I have never seen what I would call a baby squirrel. When do they leave the nest?

    December 11, 2017 at 12:45 pm

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