How to Release a Squirrel into the Wild

Whether you’ve raised a baby squirrel to adulthood or nursed a sick squirrel back to health, at some point you’ll need to return her to the wild where she belongs. However, this isn’t as easy as just dumping your furry friend into the nearest backyard. A successful release depends on both preparing your squirrel for independence and finding a good place for her to live.

When Should a Squirrel Be Released?

Basically, squirrels can be released when they’re able to find food and shelter while avoiding predators. Use the following physical and behavioral signs to determine whether your squirrel is ready to survive on her own.

Physical Signs1

  • Is at least 12 weeks old
  • Weighs 350 grams or more
  • Appears overall healthy and in good condition

Behavioral Signs1

  • Will eat natural foods
  • Is able to forage successfully
  • Can open hard shells, like those of walnuts
  • Runs away from humans and pets

Choosing a Good Release Site

When you’re confident that your squirrel is able to be independent, it’s time to scope out a new home for her. Some characteristics of a good release site include a limited number of predators in the area, easy access to safety and shelter, and an abundant source of food. The ideal habitat for gray squirrels contains plenty of oak, hickory, and beech trees.2 These types of trees both provide shelter and produce some of the best nuts for squirrels. Since established squirrels can respond aggressively to newcomers,3 try to find a release spot that has fewer squirrels already in residence.

Preparing Your Squirrel for a Successful Release

To give your squirrel the best chance of thriving in her new home, it’s important to acclimate her to the site prior to release.1 This requires allowing her to spend some time in it in a controlled manner. Simply relocate your squirrel to a large cage on-site for a few days or, if you’ve raised the squirrel and she’s used to being handled, you can even let her roam freely for a few hours every day and she’ll still come back to you. Doing so will both familiarize your squirrel with the area and allow her to accustom herself to out-of-door temperatures and weather conditions.

On the Day of the Release

Squirrels are active during the day and sleep at night,4 so a good time for the actual release is in the morning. Make sure your squirrel is fed and fully hydrated before letting her go. She should be allowed to enter the release site of her own accord. For example, if you’ve housed her in a cage, just leave the door open and let her exit when she’s ready.

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1 Cherney, L. & Nieves, M. (1991). How to care for orphaned wild mammals. Iowa State University Veterinarian, 53(2), 94-99. Retrieved from

2 Webster, D., Parnell, J., & Biggs, W. (1985). Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.

3 Thompson, D. (1978). The social system of the grey squirrel. Behavior, 64(3), 305-328.

4 Reid, F. (2006). A field guide to mammals of North America (4th ed.). New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.

When Do Squirrels Have Babies?

Different species of squirrel can give birth at different times of the year. For example, white-tailed antelope squirrels have their babies in the spring while southern flying squirrels produce one litter in spring and another in fall.1 There are dozens of different kinds of squirrels in North America alone,2 so as usual, we’ll focus on the most commonly recognized one, the eastern gray squirrel.

When Is the Eastern Gray Squirrel Breeding Season?

Gray squirrels can have up to two litters every year.1,2,3 They usually mate in January and then again in June.3 You can tell they’re getting ready to breed if you see them performing their “pre-mating ritual”, which involves a female leading one or more males on a merry chase. After becoming pregnant, the female squirrel will carry her babies for about 6 weeks before giving birth.1 Most baby gray squirrels are born in the months of March and July.2,4

Baby gray squirrel
Baby gray squirrel

How Many Babies Do Squirrels Have at a Time?

The number of babies in each squirrel litter is variable. Typically, gray squirrels give birth to 2 – 4 babies at a time, but their litters can contain up to 8 young.2 Birth occurs in the nest where the infants will remain until they’re weaned.

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1 Jackson, T. (2006). The illustrated encyclopedia of animals of America. London: Lorenz Books.

2 Reid, F. (2006). A field guide to mammals of North America (4th ed.). New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.

3 Webster, D., Parnell, J., & Biggs, W. (1985). Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.

4 Hefner, J. (1971). Age determination of the gray squirrel (Master of science thesis). Retrieved from

What Do Squirrels Eat?

Squirrels spend huge amounts of time each day foraging for food. So what are they looking for? Squirrels eat nuts (especially acorns), seeds, flowers, fruit, buds, fungi, and sometimes even insects and baby birds.1,2 If you’ve ever seen a squirrel going through the trash, then you know they love to eat human food as well!

Of course, squirrels don’t eat the same foods all the time. Their diet depends on what’s available during each season. For example, squirrels eat buds in the spring when plants are developing new leaves and flowers and then fruit in the summer when it appears.2

A Quick Guide to Squirrel Nutrition

If you have a pet squirrel, you may be wondering how much of each type of food to feed your furry friend. Fortunately, a healthy and balanced squirrel diet is extremely easy to achieve. Nuts and seeds make up as much as 95% of the eastern gray squirrel diet.3 In particular, squirrels prefer acorns, hickory nuts, and beech-nuts.1,4 Insects and other food derived from animals make up under 2% of a squirrel’s diet.2

What do squirrels eat image

To prevent your pet squirrel from eating too much or too little, we should also figure out the total amount of food he or she needs every day. Let’s start with the fact that the average squirrel eats about 100 pounds of food each year.2 Some simple math will give us our answer:

What do squirrels eat equation

So, your squirrel will need just over a quarter pound of food every day.

What About Baby Squirrels?

Like other young mammals, baby squirrels drink milk from their mothers. Squirrels nurse their young for about 3 months, which is a long time by rodent standards.5 Every mammal produces its own unique type of milk, and squirrels are no exception. Compared to cow milk, gray squirrel milk has less water and sugar but more protein and fat.6

If you’re raising a baby squirrel, you can make your own squirrel milk using this recipe.

Other Popular Questions:


1 Reid, F. (2006). A field guide to mammals of North America (4th ed.). New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.

2 Webster, D., Parnell, J., & Biggs, W. (1985). Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.

3 Chung-MacCoubrey, A., Hagerman, A., & Kirkpatrick, R. (1997). Effects of tannins on digestion and detoxification activity in gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis). Physiological Zoology, 70(3), 270-277.

4 Nixon, C., Worley, D., & McClain, M. (1968). Food habits of squirrels in Southeast Ohio. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 32(2), 294-305.

5 Haupt, L. (2013). The urban bestiary: encountering the everyday wild. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

6 Nixon, C., & Harper, W. (1972). Composition of gray squirrel milk. The Ohio Journal of Science72(1), 3-6. Retrieved from