What do squirrels eat? This might be a more complicated question than you think. While you might assume that the answer is a resounding yell of “Nuts!” you would be greatly underestimating just how many different types of foods these little creatures enjoy on a daily basis.
When imagining the life of a squirrel, many of us picture a furry creature with a fluffy tail happily munching on an acorn or another nut. There’s a reason we think that—it’s not a rare sight to see puffy cheeks filled with nuts of all kinds, and squirrels are notorious fiends of nut trees. Nuts are very important for the balanced nutritional diet of a squirrel, and if you’re lucky, enough you may catch them collecting a cache of the delicious treats to store in various hiding places.
Don’t feel bad that squirrels can’t find their nuts de-shelled like us lucky humans do. The shell actually serves a very important purpose for the furry little guys—it’s great chewing exercise, keeps their teeth sharp and strong, and unprocessed shells still in their casing can better provide the proteins and essential fatty acids squirrels need to stay healthy. Because squirrel teeth forever grow, they need to grind them down on harder items to make sure they remain able to eat. Nutshells serve as nature’s toothbrush for squirrels.
The type of nut is important. If you’re looking to feed a local squirrel, never give them peanuts. The name is deceiving—peanuts are a legume and provide very little nutritional benefit for squirrels. If you do decide to put out a plate of delicious nutty treats for your local woodland creatures, you might be wondering to yourself what kind of nuts do squirrels eat? Your safest bet is to stick with walnuts, hickory nuts, and beechnuts.
Other nuts commonly sought by squirrels of all types are hazelnuts, pistachios, pecans, cashews, chestnuts, hickory nuts, pine nuts, and even macadamia nuts.
Squirrels can’t survive on nuts alone, even though they happily would try if given an endless supply. Squirrels are omnivores, meaning they will eat both plants and meat.
They thrive on the nutrients found in vegetables and certain fruits. The furry creatures who are lucky enough to live near orchards and produce fields can have a field day if allowed to graze. Some great examples of veggies eaten by squirrels include artichokes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, parsley, spinach, asparagus, and more. Do squirrels eat carrots? You bet they do.
Squirrels also enjoy a wide array of sweet fruits. Some commonly eaten fruits include apples, mandarin oranges, mangos, tomatoes, cherries, and cranberries. Fruits must be given to squirrels in moderation, as their little bodies don’t metabolize sugar in the same way that humans do. Certain fruits contain compounds that can be harmful to squirrels if eaten in excess. Squirrels have even been known to eat tree bark and even bits of soil when other food sources are scarce.
Squirrels will voraciously hoard any food they come across, which can both benefit them and anger their human neighbors. They are notoriously opportunistic; should they stumble upon a cookie or discarded chip bag still containing a few delectable crumbs, they will not hesitate to chow down.
Squirrels can only thrive if a diet is varied. They can become bored of particular foods very easily, and will look to find other sources of protein and minerals should this happen. Of course for squirrels living in more desolate areas, it’s harder for them to come by varied foods, and preferences also depend on the species of the squirrel in question.
Squirrels who live in captivity especially need to be given a balanced and varied diet, because they will often gorge themselves on corn or other treat-like foods if given the chance—these items are the equivalent of candy for humans, meaning a squirrel allowed to eat however much he wants will face obesity problems and have nutrient deficiencies.
Although they do not hibernate, colder weather makes it harder for squirrels to go out and scavenge, so they stay in their nests for most of the time during the winter months. Squirrels must keep up their strength, and that’s why you’ll often see them collecting vast assortments of nuts in other seasons. Once the colder months come along, they can dig into their storage “bins” of yummy fatty nut fruits, and make sure they stay well fed and warm throughout the winter months.
Because produce and other food sources may be harder to find in the wild, squirrels will tend to try some rather crazy-sounding foods, especially the squirrels who are not in captivity and living off the land. There’s a lot of funny rumors about what our furry little friends like to munch on for energy. You may have been asked “Do squirrels eat bird eggs?” or the more common “Do squirrels eat bugs?” There’s a bit of truth to each of these questions, and the answer is a resounding yes—but only at certain times of the year. Squirrels have been known to eat bugs and bird eggs when in need of food, but these aren’t high on their list of diet items. They have even been recorded to have eaten snakes and smaller animals.
The next time someone asks you “What do squirrels eat?” you’ll be ready to answer them with some fascinating facts, and if you ever happen to find yourself wanting a pet squirrel, you’ll be prepared to feed them with a balanced diet that will keep them healthy and happy.