Why Do Squirrels Freeze? (Maybe It’s Because Of You!)

Have you encountered a squirrel in your backyard? Or have you ever watched a squirrel on Youtube or television that freezes up when approached by humans or other animals? I see squirrels do this a lot when I watch them on the Internet. So what is the main reason why squirrels freeze up?

Why do squirrels freeze? Squirrels freeze up as a response to danger. When squirrels freeze, it means that they are trying to avoid an attack that could be triggered by moving. Also, they freeze up to observe their surroundings if there are possible threats. 

However, aside from the reason above, there are other reasons why squirrels freeze up, and you could be the reason why they freeze up. Let’s check all the reasons why squirrels freeze up below! 

Do you want to know more about birds? Check out some of our articles about birds here!

These Are The Reasons Why Squirrels Freeze

It is usual for every prey, including the squirrels, to freeze up when they feel scared. It is an animal instinct. We humans can also freeze to death when we are scared. 

Below are the different reasons why squirrels freeze up to death.

To Avoid An Attack

Squirrels have lots of enemies and predators. The everyday life of squirrels is full of danger, which means they can die anytime. They get out of their shelter and risk their lives to find food to cleanse their hunger. Searching for food is a dangerous task, especially if you are a prey animal.

The predators of the squirrels react to motion, sounds, or if they sense any other movement from their prey. Predators can still see the prey even if it’s freezing, but there is still a high chance for prey not to be seen if they don’t move and produce sound. 

The first reason why squirrels freeze up is to avoid an attack from their predators. Squirrels are little prey and they can be easily killed by large canines. They can’t fight or defend themselves from their predators. The only thing they can do is freeze up and hope not to be noticed by their predator. 

Observe Their Surroundings

Prey animals like squirrels often observe their surroundings first before they move. Like I have said above, squirrels are easy targets for predators. They should observe everything first before making their first move.

If squirrels observe their surroundings first, there is a high chance they see the predators first before their predators see them. 

Squirrels are always on high alert. If you see one in your backyard and approach them, they will either fly away or freeze up. Squirrels do this as a reaction to something suspicious they noticed. They want to have a better look first and check if the thing they noticed is a threat or safe before they move. 

It is easier for squirrels to observe their surroundings when they freeze up. Why? Because when they freeze, all sounds are eliminated. And because they are not moving, they are hundred percent focused.

By freezing, squirrels are hidden from their predators and they can espy the area safely. 

Before Fight Or Flight Response

Squirrels freeze before flight or fight response. This is also known as examining the situation first before making an action. Squirrels freeze up to decide what is the next step they will do. 

If other animals exceed their territory, squirrels will freeze up and attack the animal that invades their space. Also, they might freeze up and run away. They run away if they think that it’s too dangerous to start a fight.  

In simple words, squirrels freeze up to think of their next move when they encounter something that they think is a threat. When squirrels freeze up, their blood pressure and heart rate may rise and they breathe faster than normal. Just like us, humans, when we feel nervous. 

How Do Squirrels Benefit From Freezing?

There are many benefits a squirrel can get when they freeze and do not move. Squirrels live in different areas around the world. Some are living in the wilderness, while some are living close to us humans. 

Squirrels that live close to humans are closer to danger than squirrels living in the wild. Cats, dogs, cars, and other pets are the things that threaten the lives of the squirrels living in urban areas. Whether a squirrel lives in the wild or an urban area, freezing is their best way to survive and live longer on Earth.

Squirrels get many benefits when they use the freezing tactic. The main benefit they can get from freezing is a longer life. Like I have mentioned above, squirrels will freeze to avoid any possible attacks that can kill them. If squirrels are careful about everything they do, they have a high chance of living longer.

Squirrels freeze to observe their surroundings first. They check if there are predators out there that are waiting for them. If they do this, they have a chance to see the predators first before their predators see them. If they see the predators first, they will have more time to plan to avoid that predator. 

Squirrels also freeze to assess what they need to do next. If there are other animals near them or invade their territory, they will freeze to think if they will fight back or fly away. If squirrels think it’s too dangerous to fight, they will run. But if they think that it is worth fighting for, they attack. 

However, not all threats can be eliminated by freezing or standing still. Some predators are smart enough to notice what a squirrel is trying to do when they freeze. If there is a car passing by, squirrels also freeze. But freezing when there is a car approaching is ineffective. 

Cars are not a natural threat, which is why squirrels are not used to them. In the dark, the pupils of squirrels dilate, and powerful lights from the car may cause temporary blindness.

Because of that, freezing is not a good idea to execute if there is a car approaching. Squirrels have a high chance of getting hit by the car. 

What Are Squirrels Afraid Of That Cause Freezing?

Like I have mentioned above, fear is what triggers the freezing of the squirrels. But what are the things that squirrels are afraid of? Below is the list of the things squirrels are scared of that triggers them to freeze. 

  • Animals, including their predators and pets, coming near them or making loud sounds like howling and barking
  • Sudden movements of an object, and sudden loud noises
  • Bright lights of cars, motorcycles, and flashlights (that is why a squirrel freezes when a camper focus the flashlight on them)
  • All kinds of vehicles
  • Humans coming closer or approaching them
  • Large birds like eagles
  • Peppermint plants
  • Different kind of traps 

Squirrels living in urban areas are more anxious than squirrels in the forest because there are many things they need to avoid. The only thing squirrels in the forest avoid is their predators, while the squirrels in urban areas avoid many things, including humans and pets. 

If you see a squirrel in your garden or the park while you play football, do not approach it. Why? Because you might scare them and they might get stressed. Be mindful, humans! 

Why Do Squirrels Stop In The Middle Of The Road?

Squirrels stop in the middle of the road as part of their survival tactic. They freeze when they sense that there is a threat coming. Squirrels think that cars and motorcycles are a potential threat or a predator. 

In the jungle, squirrels usually freeze when a predator approaches them. When the predator is too close to them, they either fight or run away. They freeze to think about what to do next. If it seems they can fight the animal near them, they will fight. Otherwise, they will fly away. 

Sadly, freezing when a vehicle is approaching is not a good idea. Squirrels don’t realize that vehicles are not a potential threat that tries to eat or kill them but just a car passing by. 

When the squirrel senses the vehicle, they will stop in the middle of the road until the vehicle gets close, squirrels will try to run across the road (90 degrees from the direction of their predator).

However, as I have said above, this is not a good idea. Why? Because vehicles are much faster than predators. There is a high chance that a vehicle that passes by hits the squirrel. Squirrels don’t know how to stay out of the way when a vehicle is approaching. 

Video Of A Squirrel That Freezes After Eating

The video below is an example video that shows how squirrels freeze suddenly. In the video, the squirrel eats some of the food and then realizes that it is a human who is the one giving the food. When the squirrel realized it, the squirrel froze suddenly.


Final Words

Now that you know why squirrels freeze, hopefully, you will be mindful the next time you see one in your backyard or the park. Never approach a squirrel when you encounter one because you might scare them and stress them.

If you want more animal articles like this, go to the “Other animals” section on our category at the top! 

Jake Willhoite
Jake runs AnimalDome.com and has had cats and dogs his entire life. As a kid his family adopted several dogs from the local shelter which set him down the path of animal rescue.
Photo of author