Why Do Squirrels Shake Their Tails? What Does It Mean?

Akinwalere Olaleye
Oct 06, 2023 By Akinwalere Olaleye
Originally Published on Oct 11, 2021
 Squirrel in wild.
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 7.7 Min

Would you like to discover under what circumstances squirrels shake their tails?

Squirrels shaking their tails can be a sign of a number of things. Learn how to distinguish from one shaking tail to another.

Squirrels are small animals with bushy tails. They maintain specific body language to communicate with their fellow squirrels. Their behaviors change during the mating season.

They become more active and start showing excited behavior. People often notice squirrels flicking, wagging, and twitching their tails in the presence of others around them. The reason behind this behavior can be anything from protecting themselves from predators to make mating calls during the mating season.

Squirrels are intelligent animals. They have skills like no other. The swift movements and communication skills are great notations of the intelligence of the animal.

Let's find out why squirrels particularly flick and shake their tails. To find more fun facts about squirrels and hamsters, you may also read why do squirrels chase each otherandwhy do hamsters run on wheels.

What situations does a squirrel shake its tail in?

A squirrel is a very lively and expressive animal. It uses its tail as a tool for effective communication. Often squirrels are found shaking their tails.

They are sometimes alone, sometimes in the presence of other squirrels or in the presence of other animals. The flicking and twitching of tails in every situation means a different thing for the animal. Humans often think they have squirrels figured out.

But only keen watching can lead any human to predict the true nature of a squirrel at any given instance. The functions of the tail of a squirrel are several. Let's take a look at the situations that lead to squirrels particularly wagging their tails.

Male and female squirrels, both, could shake their tails in three major scenarios. The first one is the presence of predators.

This animal species shakes their tail when they spot a predator. By doing so they alert the predator that they have seen it and are prepared to run away if it ever decides to attack.

It is a sort of warning for the predators that you would never be able to catch me. The second case is when these wild animals are protecting their food or territory. Squirrels could become quite territorial if provoked.

Almost all squirrels collect and store foods such as walnuts for the winter season. As the winter season approaches, squirrels claim their storage of food and issue a warning to other squirrels to stay away from their food.

The third important case is when the squirrels are in heat. By wagging their tails, they attract squirrels of the opposite gender for mating.

Do squirrels flick their tails?

People worldwide have reported that they have watched a squirrel shake its tail. The circumstances of these sightings were unexplainable in the beginning.

Later on, several researchers started conducting studies and research on why squirrels shake their tails back and forth. On thorough research, a university was successful in determining patterns in the behavior of squirrels. They made groundbreaking discoveries on the flicking of these bushy tails.

It was found that the nature of squirrels changes according to the season and their position in the life cycle. In the animal world, every squirrel species is capable of flicking and wagging its tail but not all of them do it.

Squirrel's tails don't just flick on their own. It is a kind of response to their surroundings and their bodily changes.

Squirrels confronted by predators tend to shake their tails to intimidate the predator as well as make their other companions aware of the threat. Tree squirrels are more active compared to ground squirrels when it comes to wagging the tail.

Ground squirrels prefer to use more vocals for communication. On the other hand, tree squirrels prefer silence and use just their body language to communicate with others in their species.

To answer our question in the shortest way, yes, squirrels do flick their tails. All of the squirrels have the capability to shake their tails, just not every squirrel decides to shake it unless absolutely necessary.

Why do squirrels shake their tails and bark?

Specific seasons are triggers for squirrels. They become more active and alarmed in some, while lazy and work free in some.

With changing seasons on planet Earth, squirrels adapt to different functions. Wild squirrels are adapted to the dense surroundings but squirrels living nearby human settlements are afraid of the wilds. So one can only believe the change in behaviors with a season change is inevitable.

As the season of fall approaches, squirrels start collecting food and building their homes for the winter. Since the mating season also starts in late winter the females prepare their homes for giving birth.

They collect nuts from surrounding areas and store them to eat during the winter. These activities take a lot of effort on the squirrel's side.

Amongst all the hustle the instinct of the squirrels to protect themselves from danger does not recede. In fact, they become more attentive and are easily alarmed by sudden movements.

In such cases, they signal their counterparts by shaking their tails and using bark-like vocals. Other squirrels on hearing the bark-like sounds get away from danger. This is about the fall season.

But in the winter season, the tail shaking is for attracting mates. Male squirrels dance and shake their tails in front of females to pursue them to mate.

Their bark-like calls are also a way to communicate between the mates. So one can promptly say this behavior of squirrels is seen in the fall and winter seasons more prominently.

Ground Squirrel eating with hands bushy tail.

Why do squirrels shake their tails so much?

All animals have their separate ways of dealing with dangers. They have their unique defense mechanisms. They use these defense mechanisms whenever they feel threatened, which can be in the presence or absence of a predator.

Activating their defense mechanisms is easy for some animals but hard for others. In the case of squirrels, the defense mechanism is quite unique. Let's take a look at how squirrels defend themselves from the dangers of planet Earth.

In life-threatening situations, squirrels activate their defense mechanisms. They are quick on their feet. Their ability to run faster than most animals can get them away from the clutches of predators if attacked.

But squirrels are smart animals. They try to prevent their predators from attacking in the first place. Once they spot their predator they shake their tail to let the predator know that they have seen them as well.

They intimidate their predator by saying that they will never be able to catch them by shaking their tails. Predators take the clue and back off from the squirrels. That is why squirrels are seen shaking their tails so much.

What does it mean when a squirrel stares at you?

Ever had an encounter with a squirrel when it was just staring at you? The stares of squirrels creep some humans out. They often wonder what in the world they did to get that staring gaze from these small rodents. Let's see if we can find out any plausible reasons for their definite stare.

Squirrels are quite afraid of humans. They immediately issue a warning sign to all the squirrels around them when they encounter a new human or a new territory. Squirrels are often seen to have locked their body, especially their gaze on the humans.

This staring can mean one of three things. One: they are curious.

Squirrels often like to take in the dynamics of their surroundings and as humans are a part of their surroundings they stare at them, unblinkingly. Two: they see you as a threat. Squirrels are known to stare at their predators to intimidate and shoo them away.

Three: they are hungry. Just like dogs, squirrels have the habit of giving 'puppy eyes' to humans to gain more treats from them.

So there is no need to worry when a squirrel is staring at you. It is not going to attack. It is just looking after itself and protecting itself from any danger.

How can you tell if a squirrel is mad?

Squirrels are very bad at hiding their frustration. Whenever a squirrel is mad humans can easily detect it by observing just some minor changes in their body language.

Their sitting and watching style changes or they might start to dance. But the most important change is in their bushy tails. So if you are in the vicinity of a squirrel and are confused whether it is mad or not just look for these simple signs stated below.

As per the research done by UC Berkeley, when a squirrel is mad or frustrated, it can really behave improperly. Some squirrels go as far as biting humans when they are mad. To determine whether the squirrel is mad or not, observe its tail.

The tail hair, though bushy, lay flat on the tail structure. But when a squirrel is mad the tail hairs stand up and the tail looks twice as bushier as before.

You can see their sitting posture is upright and they are shaking their bushing tails. They might also stare at you. Remember to always stay away from a mad squirrel as you do not want to get hurt.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for why do squirrels shake their tails then why not take a look at why do foxes scream, or Texas antelope squirrel facts?

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Written by Akinwalere Olaleye

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

Akinwalere Olaleye picture

Akinwalere OlaleyeBachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

As a highly motivated, detail-oriented, and energetic individual, Olaleye's expertise lies in administrative and management operations. With extensive knowledge as an Editor and Communications Analyst, Olaleye excels in editing, writing, and media relations. Her commitment to upholding professional ethics and driving organizational growth sets her apart. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of Benin, Edo State. 

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