By Roger Williams Park Zoo, Education Department
There are lots of different names for the place we call home: house, cottage, abode, mansion, bungalow, ranch, etc. Just like people, animals have different types of homes and different names for their homes: den, burrow, cave, nest, etc.
Squirrels live in a home called a drey.
About the size of a basketball, a drey is a hollow nest made out of twigs and branches. It usually looks like a ball of leaves caught in-between the tree branches. Inside, a drey is often lined with moss, fur, grass or leaves to provide a soft padding for squirrels.
You can find dreys nestled securely between a tree branch and the tree trunk. They are often mid-way up the tree (too low and ground predators will be able to reach the drey; too high and strong winds may damage the home).
It is easier to spot squirrel dreys in the winter, when trees have dropped their leaves. Most likely, you will be able to see one if you look at the trees in your yard. If you are not sure if what you are looking at is a drey, spend a little time observing. Squirrels are active year-round, so you should be able to see them go in and out of the drey, even in the winter.
When they aren’t out looking for food, squirrels spend a lot of time sleeping in their dreys. The nest also serves as a place to hide from predators, and to wait out winter storms.
In late winter and early spring, mother squirrels will give birth inside their dreys. Newborn squirrels will spend the first 2 months of their lives inside this home. Once the babies are stronger, and temperatures have warmed, the young will leave the nest and someday build a drey of their own.
Wildlife biologists can estimate the size of a squirrel population by counting the number of dreys they see in a small area.
-Â Â Â For a short-term project, count the number of dreys in your yard. Compare this to the number of dreys you find in a yard down the street. What reasons can you think of for the difference in number of dreys between the two places?
-Â Â Â For a longer-term project, count and record the number of dreys in your yard and compare the numbers year after year. Do you think squirrel populations around you are increasing or decreasing? Use your data to support what you think.
RECOMMENDED BOOK (ages 5-11)
A Home for Pearl Squirrel by Amy Crane Johnson
Follow Pearl Squirrel as she learns about the homes where her many woodland friends live. Each home is special to its owner in a different way, but ultimately Pearl finds that a home is any place where you feel comfortable and loved.
Another idea to help you engage your kids in the wonders of nature all around us, from Roger Williams Park Zoo’s awarding winning education department. 1000 Elmwood Avenue, Providence, RI
Photo Credit: Roger Williams Park Zoo