Squirrel Sounds: The Noises Squirrels Make & Their Meaning (2023)

Squirrels make many sounds, including barks, screeches, snorts, and others. They use them as mating calls, to communicate with other squirrels, and to fend off predators. Baby squirrels also make sounds when they’re trying to get their mother’s attention.

Have you ever heard squirrels chirping, barking, or moaning and wondered what they are saying to each other?

Adult squirrels make sounds and use tail movements to alert other squirrels of predators, chase other squirrels away, or let the opposite sex know that they are ready to mate.

Infant squirrels make sounds to call their mothers when they are hungry.

In this article, we explore the secretive world of squirrel communication and decode what different squirrel sounds mean.

Squirrel Sounds of Different Types of Squirrels

There are an estimated 279 types of squirrels in the world divided into three groups:[1]

  1. Tree squirrels
  2. Ground squirrels
  3. Flying squirrels

Different types make different sounds.

Tree Squirrel Sounds

There are 128 species of tree squirrel in the world. Depending on the species, tree squirrels have between 1-13 distinct sounds, used for different purposes:

  • Alarm
  • Hostility
  • Discomfort
  • A desire to mate
  • Affiliative
  • Neonatal calls

In the North, American red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) have 13 calls. This is the largest known number of distinct calls among tree squirrels.

Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) have 11 calls and eastern fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) have 9 calls. [2]

Ground Squirrel Sounds

There are 115 species of ground squirrels and they are known to have up to 10 distinct calls.

Yellow-pine chipmunk (Tamias amoenus), Columbian ground squirrels (Urocitellus columbianus), and arctic ground squirrels (Urocitellus parryii) all have 10 distinct calls.

Flying Squirrel Sounds

There are 53 species of flying squirrels and, being nocturnal, they are the most mysterious group in the squirrel family.

From what we know about them, the southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans) has the widest range of vocalizations, with a total of 27.[2]

5 Types of Tree Squirrel Sounds

Tree squirrels make sounds accompanied by tail movements to communicate with other squirrels and animals. Their calls are used to intimidate other squirrels, alert squirrels of a predator, express interest in mating, and call their mother when hungry.

Tree squirrels, like eastern gray squirrels, are one of the most common in urban areas.

Common squirrel sounds are used to communicate the following:

  • Alarm calls (alerting other squirrels about a predator nearby)
  • Communicating with predators
  • Intimidation (telling other squirrels to back off)
  • Mating calls
  • Infants calling mother

1. Squirrels Sounds: Alarm Calls

Eastern gray squirrels make the following sounds as alarm calls:

  • Kuk: a short, sharp sound that is similar to a dog bark but faster and shorter in duration.
  • Quaa: a longer version of the ‘kuk’.
  • Moan: tonal sound similar to a whistle.

Squirrels make ‘kuk’ and ‘quaa’ sounds in response to terrestrial predators like cats. Their moans are used in response to aerial predators like hawks. [3]

Squirrel Bark: Kuk

This sound is similar to a dog bark, but shorter in duration. Squirrels bark out a few ‘kuk-kuk’ sounds in succession.

American red squirrels and Eastern gray squirrels have been observed making rapid ‘kuk-kuk-kuk’ barks. This tells other squirrels that there is imminent danger. [4]

They communicate a less-immediate danger by barking a drawn-out ‘ku-u-ku.’

Squirrel Screech: Quaa

The ‘quaa’ sounds like a longer version of the “kuk”.

When squirrels make a ‘quaa’ sound, they are alerting other squirrels that there is still a threat around, but that it is moving away.[5]

Squirrel Moan

Squirrels’ moans sound similar to a whistle and can be used to indicate ariel predators. A moan can also be used in combination with a ‘quaa’ sound and tail flicks.

Research has found that moans that are not accompanied by tail movements indicate an ariel predator approaching.

Moans accompanied by a whipping around of the tail (also known as tail flags) indicate a terrestrial predator, like a cat.[4]

Combined Sound: Quaa and Moan

A squirrel can make a ‘quaa’ sound followed by a moan when they don’t see the predator anymore.[5]

2. Squirrel Sounds: Communicating with predators

Squirrels make alarm calls to warn other nearby squirrels, but they also do it to let the predator know, that they have spotted them.

Research by biology professor Robert Lishak of Auburn University found that when squirrels start ‘kuking,’ cats give up on their hunt.[6]

It’s possible that the cats rely on the element of surprise while hunting and give up if this is lost.

3. Squirrels’ Intimidation Sound

Squirrels can be aggressive when it comes to food, unwilling to share it with other squirrels. They are known to use teeth-chattering sounds to intimidate other squirrels and keep them away from their food.

If a squirrel is at a bird or squirrel feeder and another squirrel moves closer, they can start making teeth-chattering sounds for intimidation.[6]

This rapid sound is similar to the sound of human teeth chattering when cold or in shock.

4. Squirrel Mating Calls

Male squirrels make a ‘muk-muk’ and low buzzing sound (like a stifled sneeze) as their mating call. This lets nearby females know that he wants to mate.

This sound is similar to infant squirrels’ calls. The intention is clear: let’s make babies.[5]

Fertile female eastern gray squirrels let out high-pitched advertising calls to help males find them during mating season.

5. Baby Squirrels Calling Their Mother

Infant squirrels, also known as squirrel kits, make a high-pitched ‘muk-muk’ and stifled sneeze sound when calling their mothers.

Female squirrels cover their kits with nesting material, like twigs, grass, and leaves, to keep them warm before setting out to forage for food. She returns to the nest to feed them.

If the mother has been gone for too long and the kits are hungry, they call her using this ‘muk-muk’ sound.

Squirrels’ Sounds & Meanings

The table below summarizes squirrels’ sounds and their meanings.

SoundDescription of SoundMeaning
‘kuk-kuk-kuk’Rapid short, sharp barksImminent danger
drawn-out ‘ku-u-ku.’
Slower, drawn-out ‘kuk’ bark
Danger is less immediate
‘Quaa’A longer version of ‘kuk’ sound.There is still a threat/predator around but it is moving away.
MoanTonal sound similar to a whistleIndicate ariel predators.
‘Quaa’ and moan‘Quaa’ sound followed by a moanIndicate that the squirrel cannot see the predator anymore.
Teeth chatteringRapid teeth gnashing sound.Intimidate other squirrels (often to keep them away from their food).
High-pitched ‘muk-muk’ and low buzzingSounds like a stifled sneeze: ‘phfft, phfft.’Infants (kits) calling their mother.
‘Muk-muk’ and low buzzing soundSounds like a stifled sneeze: ‘phfft, phfft’Male squirrel’s mating call.

Squirrel Sounds & Tail Signals

Tail twitches form part of squirrels’ communication. They can accompany squirrel sounds or are used on their own as a form of communication or expression of emotions.

If you have ever watched squirrels, you may have noticed that they often make sounds while simultaneously twitching or flicking their tails.

The more threatened squirrels feel, the more likely they are to twitch or flick their tails during their alarm calls.[2]

Types of Tail Signals

Researchers from the University of Miami identified two types of tail signals used by eastern gray squirrels:

  1. Tail twitching
  2. Tail flagging

These signals are often used in combination with vocalizations to warn nearby squirrels of predators.

1. Squirrel Tail Twitches

A tail twitch is a small controlled movement. It looks like a wave running through the tail.

2. Squirrel Tail Flagging

Tail flagging is when squirrels move their tails in rapid whipping motions. They whip their tails around in a circle or in a figure eight formation.

Squirrels use different vocalizations and tail signals to warn of predators. They use them in specific combinations to indicate different types of predators.

Squirrel Sounds: The Noises Squirrels Make & Their Meaning (1)

What Sounds Do Baby Squirrels Make?

Newborn squirrels, also known as kits or pups, start squeaking within their first few days of life. Their calls can express discomfort, separation, hunger, elation, and tiredness.

Like most mammal infants, squirrel kits are dependent on their mothers for food, warmth, safety, and comfort. Their squeaking calls reflect their needs.

Squirrel Kit Calls Explained

Squirrel kits make discomfort calls when cold, injured, or scared. They also make separation calls when they have fallen from the nest. These calls help the mother find and retrieve her kits.

When hungry, they make food calls. When the mother hears these calls, she returns to the nest to nurse her young.

As the young squirrels mature, they grow out of making calls specific to kits. By the time they leave the nest, they sound like adult squirrels.

Elation calls are made during play or when they are excited to have their mother return to the nest after being out foraging.

Type for Baby Squirrel CallWhat The Call Means
Discomfort CallsCalls are made when kits feel cold, scared, or are injured.
Separation CallsCalls are made when fallen from the nest. to help the mother find and retrieve her kits
Hunger CallsCalls to get the mother to return to the nest and nurse her kits.
Elation CallsCalls are made when excited or playful.
Tiredness CallsCalls are made when tired, right before sleeping.

Mothers Call For Kits

Some female squirrels have calls specifically to communicate with their kits.

When an American red squirrel mother realizes that her nest has been found by a predator, she makes a buzzing call to her kits so that they will follow her to a new safe nest.

Do Squirrels Make Noise When Mating?

In some species, female and male squirrels occasionally make vocal sounds when mating (copulation).

However, it has not always easy to observe flying squirrels’ in copulation, since they are nocturnal, and ground squirrels mate in their underground burrows.

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