Ever notice those big clumps of leaves between the tree branches and wondered what they are? It isn't what you think it is.

What is That Clump of Leaves in Your Tree?

John M. Chase from Getty Images Signature
John M. Chase from Getty Images Signature
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Growing up in rural Connecticut, I'd see these leaf piles in trees around my backyard during winter.These piles were always about a foot to two feet big and were always about 20 feet up from the ground.

I assumed it was either a nest for large birds like hawks, since they tended to set up shop around our property, or it was literally a pile of leaves that got stuck in the branches.

Turns out I was wrong about both.

These clumps of leaves actually are in trees year round, they just become visible after the fall foliage season and trees go dormant for the winter.  They are built by an animal - but not by any species of bird.

Instead, that leaf clump is actually a squirrel hideout - otherwise known as a drey. Geen Hour says the bushy-tailed animals build them in branches or in tree holes. All kinds of squirrels make dreys, from the common gray to the elusive red or northern flying squirrel.

However, if you see a very large scraggly-looking leaf nest in those branches, it's most likely the work of a gray squirrel since they tend to build the most obvious-looking dreys.

What These Balls Look Like on the Inside

eyepark from Getty Images
eyepark from Getty Images
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If you think that clump of leaves is literally just that, you're sorely mistaken. Squirrels spend a lot of time building them because that's where they sleep and even raise young.

Squirrels hollow out the inside and fill it with soft materials, like moss, to make it cozy.

You may think this means they use dreys to hide out in the winter, you're wrong again. Nothing is cozy about spending a chilly night in a ball of leaves. They will only use them for shelter and warmth if they are unable to find a more protected place to shack up during the colder months. That's why squirrels are prone to break into attics during that time of year.

Instead, squirrels really use their dreys in the summer. It seems those structures are better at helping them cool off than stay warm.

Squirrel mating season happens in January and February, meaning squirrels can raise their babies in a drey if no other option is available.

What If You Don't Want Squirrels?

EPG_europhotographics from Getty Images
EPG_europhotographics from Getty Images
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Not everyone loves having squirrels in their yard. They tend to chew on wooden structures, break into places where they don't belong, and can attract predators that are even more unwelcome.

Instead of trapping the squirrels and spray painting them red like that one dude from Putnam County, you can try these less-illegal methods instead.

Read More: Upstate NY Man Arrested for Cruel Act of Spray-Painting Squirrels

One popular method is what is called "drey poking," where one takes a long pole and disturbing the nest so it falls apart. The nest is sturdy, so it will need several jabs before it breaks into pieces.

The best time to poke those dreys is now, before the leaves grow back for the summer.

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