Squirrel Habitat Management
Good Squirrel Habitat Makes for Good Squirrel Hunting Opportunities
Fortunately, fox squirrels and gray squirrels are habitat generalists, thriving in many habitat types. Fox squirrels prefer more open habitat such as woodlots, fencerows, and bottomlands. Gray squirrels are more commonly seen in largely forested areas. A mixture of these habitats results in these species often being in the same place.
The best squirrel habitat contains various trees and shrubs that produce mast, a fruit that can be either hard or soft. Hard-mast-producing trees such as oaks, hickories, black walnut, and American beech are important food sources for squirrels. Habitats with a variety of these species provide better consistency in yearly acorn production. Ensuring squirrel habitats have soft-mast-producing trees and shrubs such as black gum, flowering dogwood, spicebush, and wild grapes is equally important. Before those food sources ripen, squirrels also feed heavily on foods from native hardwoods, particularly flower buds of elms in spring, and seeds from tulip trees, maples, and ash trees.
Squirrels also need sufficient cover to survive and reproduce. Mature trees, especially those with cavities, offer the best shelter. Squirrels use the cavities in late winter to raise their litters. In the absence of cavities, squirrels build nests, also called dreys, using leaves and twigs. Dreys are built in high places like maturing trees or grapevine tangles; however, they prefer to use dreys to raise litters in spring and summer.
Landowners interested in creating better squirrel habitat can use many of the same practices used for timber management. Prescribed fires, timber harvests, and timber stand improvement can help sustain the oak/hickory forest habitat that supports an abundance of squirrels. Landowners who want to attract squirrels should concentrate on retaining cavity trees, managing for a diversity of hardwood trees, and encouraging young, vigorous mast-bearing trees.
Controlling invasive plants can also optimize squirrel habitat. Removing invasive shrubs such as bush honeysuckles, autumn olive, and multiflora rose will allow more beneficial native plants to grow, leading to years of great squirrel hunting opportunities on your land.