It’s tough to hate on squirrels. Yes, cynics do call them gentrified rats. But how can you resist those cute faces and bushy tails? And they’ve effectively adapted to living around humans. But what do squirrels eat? Let’s find out so we can lure even more into your yard.
Squirrel Habits and Biology
When you hear the word squirrel, you’re probably thinking of a small rodent with a luxurious fluffy tail. In your mind, this cute animal is grey or reddish-brown with gray flecks. The Latin scientific name is Sciuridae (in case you’re ever asked on a game show – you’re welcome!). Over 200 squirrel species exist around the world. The most common American squirrels are:
Interestingly, flying squirrels don’t actually ‘fly’. They spread out their limbs as they jump from tree to tree. This makes their skin fan out into ‘wings’ that let them glide through the air. Also, ground squirrels often include gophers, chipmunks, and other rodents. So they’re not always ‘true’ squirrels. But whichever species they are, squirrels eat their weight every week.
Most weigh roughly 1lb, but gauge their mass in pounds and check they have at least 1/7th of that amount every day. That’s if you’re allowed to feed them – it’s illegal in some places so check with the local authorities first. Squirrels are omnivores, meaning they can eat meat, fruits, vegetables, and other plants. They often raid bird feeders and pet bowls for snacks.
But how do they get into those tricky corners? Well, their ankles can turn 180° on a whim, helping them scurry up walls and branches. On average, squirrels are 15 to 20 inches from nose to tail. And they can jump ten times that high – even the non-flying ones (Take that Superman!) They start having babies at roughly one year old and have two or three per litter.
Mommy squirrels breed mostly in December or January and are pregnant for about 6 weeks. Their kits or kittens (baby squirrels) are born blind, deaf (their ears are fused shut) and hairless. They wean at about 3 months and start exploring. In the wild, squirrels rarely live beyond 4 years and half of them die out every year. But a pet squirrel can live up to 10 years.
Do Squirrels Eat Dirt?
Squirrels are mammals, meaning they give birth to live babies and suckle them for a few months. They’re also pretty clever and quickly copy nearby animals – including us! So if you routinely feed them, be careful that they don’t get too dependent or they may suffer when you move away. As said, squirrels will pretty much eat anything. But what exactly is dirt?
If you mean rummaging through the trash (like raccoons), then no, they don’t. You’ll often see squirrels digging in the ground so you may assume they’re eating dirt. But they’re more likely burying food, harvesting a hidden stash, or hunting insects, worms, and grubs. They do eat twigs, wood, tree bark, and animal horns (like deer antlers) for minerals and fiber.
What Do Squirrels Like to Eat Most?
Squirrel diets are a lot like human diets. Being omnivores, they eat meat and plants, just like we do. Their meat is mostly in the form of insects and snakes, but they might dip into Fido or Fluffy’s dish if you raw-feed your pets. Here are some foods that are gourmet for squirrels.
- Shelled nuts – they love gnawing through those hard shells. It’s like crunching chips!
- Acorns are especially popular. Tons of forests grown from forgotten squirrels stashes.
- Try Cands Squirrel Logs. They mimic timber with ground peanut and sweetcorn.
- Fruits like strawberries are a big hit so if you grow them, your garden will be raided.
- Squirrels also enjoy fruit slices like apples, peaches, or pairs hung on a string.
- For seeds, try Chuckanut Pumpkin seeds. Their calorie count is lower sunflowers.
- Many squirrels have a sweet tooth so offer them crunchy, sugary veggies like carrots.
- Kaytee’s Country Blend is made for pets but its fruity mix is great for squirrels too.
- It may help to provide ‘bone meal’ like cuttlefish skeletons (cuttlebone) for calcium.
- For wild seeds, offer pine and spruce in addition to low-calorie commercial seeds.
- Hazelnuts, hickory, walnuts, and beechnuts are popular with squirrels.
- They enjoy wild berries in the fall (Osage oranges are a tasty seasonal treat).
- Squirrels are opportunistic eaters. So if they find wild eggs unguarded, they’ll feast.
- Flying squirrels are known to raid small nests eat newly hatched chicks.
Feed your squirrels the same way you feed your children and your pets. Yes, they love certain things, but that doesn’t mean you should offer ice cream in excess. Balance the foods your squirrels love with foods that are good for their health. Occasional treats are fine, but the bulk of your squirrel diet should be protein-packed dishes that encourage them to exercise.
Food to Avoid When Feeding Squirrels
When an animal eats out of your hand, your heart grows three sizes. And you feel like a Disney Princess. But wild animals need to hunt and gather or they won’t survive. So opt for squirrel feeders and avoid having direct contact as your feed the local rodents. Here are a few more things you should dodge when you’re loading the pantry for your outdoor friends.
- Because squirrels are omnivorous, their primary diet in the wild has protein, vitamins, and mineral salts. And they’re high-energy nibblers.
- This essentially means they opt for high-energy foods with minimal itis. Think keto or paleo. You shouldn’t be feeding your squirrels excessive carbs. They don’t need it.
- This means squirrels shouldn’t be eating corn or sunflower seeds. They love them like we love fries … but it has no nutritional value and will just make them too fat to jump.
- Squirrels love nuts of all kinds. Especially if the nuts come in shells. But peanuts are legumes rather than nuts. So they can get moldy, and mold can poison the squirrel.
- If you want to give squirrels a peanut treat – because they do enjoy the taste – shell and roast the peanuts first. This reduces the likelihood of potentially toxic mold.
- Yes, squirrels make a beeline for bird feeders. But that food isn’t the best. Invest in squirrel-proof bird feeders and get your squirrels their own feeders with safer food.
- Human junk food (cookies, cake, potato chips, popcorn) is a no-no. Yes, the squirrels will eat them and probably beg for more, but you don’t want obese rodents.
- While Critter Crunch is a top seller, it contains corn, peanuts, and sunflower seeds – and that’s a McDonalds burger meal for squirrels. Maybe try something else.
Remember, just like humans, junk food is fun, fast, and affordable … but it’s still bad for you. Squirrels don’t live indoors. You’re more like their favorite fast-food joint. So even if they love it, don’t give them food that will make it harder to forage or dodge their predators.
Tips to Feed Squirrels
How you feed your squirrels will depend on their species and habits. Are they ground-dwellers (like chipmunks) or tree climbers (like fox squirrels and grays)? Do you prefer take-out squirrels that grab and run or sit-down diners that hang around and wait for dessert? Do you fill your feeders year-round or is this a holiday thing? Let’s check out some tips.
- Get designated squirrel feeders. This will keep the squirrels away from bird feeders.
- Yes, squirrels can eat birdseed, but it’s not optimal, so feed them separately.
- Water isn’t an issue, so yes, the squirrels can safely drink out of your birdbath.
- But birdbaths are for … washing up … so offer lots of clean water as well.
- Change the water every day – it’s outside and will accumulate dirt and toxins.
- If you love watching squirrels dig, opt for seeds they can bury instead of fresh fruits.
- Squirrels have been known to eat eggs, so if you keep chicken, squirrel-proof the pen.
- Keep your feeders elevated to simulate your squirrels’ feeding habits in the wild.
- To maintain the squirrels’ natural eating habits, raise the food but keep the water low.
- Clean your squirrel feeders and water dishes every week – bacteria build up.
- You can use hot water and dishwashing soap since it’s safer and food-grade.
- Red squirrels often forget where they stashed their food so offer them more treats.
- Grays have better memories, so consider burying seeds next to their stash.
- These reds and grays will fight over food (grays can even steal forgotten red hoards!)
- So confirm which species of squirrel you have and plan their menu accordingly.
Squirrels are irrepressibly cute but they’re still wild. Simulate their natural feeding habits. They should have to leap, hunt, and scavenge their meals.
Set up your waterers and feeders with this in mind … but position them in spots that are safe from predators. And yes, that includes your pets. If Rex and Purrby keep chasing them off, the squirrels won’t come back.
A squirrel’s teeth continue to grow until they die. Particularly their four front teeth. They have four front claws per hand, five back claws per foot, and can see behind them without turning. Their double-jointed legs are ideal for quick climbing. They can safely fall 100 feet, using their tails to balance and as a parachute. Here ten more common squirrel questions.
1. Do squirrels eat peanut butter?
We all love peanut butter. Even with allergies! But it can be addictive … and fattening! So don’t give let them develop a habit! And don’t feed them out of your hands – they’ll get dependent and you may get sick from scratches.
2. What do squirrels eat in winter?
They will look for the nuts they buried in the summer. Or they’ll eat off human feeders. They might go for tree barks, fungi, or insects if they can’t find other food. Squirrels try to fatten themselves in the winter to keep warm. Especially tree squirrels that don’t hibernate.
3. Do squirrels eat meat?
Yes, they can eat snakes, small birds, and wet pet food. But they like nuts and berries best. Flying squirrels eat more meat than other species because they mostly live above ground.
4. When do squirrels eat?
Squirrels forage during the day and sleep at night. For squirrels that hunt (mice, lizards, sometimes other squirrels), they’ll adjust to the patterns of their preferred prey. But otherwise, you’ll rarely spot active squirrels after dark.
5. Can squirrels eat bread?
Squirrels can eat anything (though they don’t seem to like onions and garlic). So yes, they’ll eat bread if you offer it. But it’s not good for their gut – too much sugar, starch, and salt.
6. Do squirrels eat raisins?
You might be worried about choking hazards, but raisins are fine for squirrels. That said, raisins are saccharine … do you really want to face a squirrel on a sugar high?
7. Which vegetables do squirrels like?
Squirrels enjoy all kinds of vegetables so they can be a nuisance in your garden. They’ll eat tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, eggplants, lettuce, and more. They like crunchy veggies best.
8. Do squirrels like flowers?
Yes, they regularly bite into flower bulbs. Just like veggies, they take a few mouthfuls and leave the rest of the flower (or fruit or vegetable) untouched. No table manners whatsoever!
9. How do you keep squirrels out of the garden?
Plant chilies, onions, peppermint, and garlic. Spray the garden with predator pee or vinegar. Use repellents like pinwheels and noisy toys. And train your pets to scare the squirrels off.
10. Can you give Easter Eggs to squirrels?
Chocolate contains theobromine, which is bad for small mammals. That includes cats, dogs, and squirrels. It can cause trembling, seizures, heart problems, and even death.
Squirrels are cute but far from cuddly. If they rely on humans feeding them, they might not survive in the wild. Feed them and water them, but make them work for their food. Go for fruit, veggies, and shelled nuts. Raise their feeders to keep their survival skills sharp.