If you’re like us, then you absolutely love feeding squirrels but what do squirrels eat? What is safe to feed them and what should you avoid. Below is a complete list! We love to feed many different types of wildlife, but squirrels are probably our favorite. When people first start nature watching and feeding squirrels, they’re not quite sure what to feed these cute little creatures.
It’s obvious that we don’t want to feed them anything that is going to cause harm, and we don’t want to feed them what would be considered the equivalent of junk food for squirrels. If you’re just starting to feed them, you don’t have to feel intimidated. Squirrels are incredibly picky, and you can actually feed them a mixture of different foods.
What Do Squirrels Eat?
If you’ve seen any of the recent Ice Age movies, then you’re well aware of the cartoon squirrel that just cannot seem to get the elusive nut. While growing up, most of us have been taught a little bit about squirrels, which is that they eat nuts.
This is very accurate, and the nuts that are still in their shell happen to be a squirrel favorite. If you watch them often, you will frequently see squirrels either eating nuts or stashing them somewhere in your yard. Nuts that are in a shell are actually critical to squirrel nutrition, and they gnaw on these nuts with their teeth.
The reason why this food source is so beneficial is because it gives squirrels chewing exercise, and it also delivers natural protein and essential fatty acids, and it’s very important that squirrels receive these dietary components.
Do Squirrels Eat Acorns
Yes, Acorns are a stable of a Squirrels diet. They plan far enough in advance to bury certain nuts for certain seasons based on their growth schedules. The gray squirrel will only bury red oak acorns as the white oak acorns will begin to grow too quickly for use if the acorn is buried. The red oak acorns get buried for future use while the white oak acorns get eaten right away.
In some cases, squirrels have been observed digging up their buried acorns, biting through the nut to prevent growth, and then reburying the acorn for later use.
Where to buy acorns for Squirrels
Etsy has a large number of suppliers who sell Acorns. The acorns sold are typically either sold for decoration or for hunters for baiting deer. These acorns will be appreciated by your backyard squirrel friends. Many other hunting supply stores will offer acorns in bulk. Amazon.com does not currently have any good options. Some garden and seed stores will carry them like NativeWildFlowers.net
Although nuts are certainly important, a squirrel’s entire diet should not consist entirely of nuts – they also need other types of food. If they could, it’s very likely that squirrels would feast on scrumptious nuts 24 hours a day, but what they really need, like humans, it a balanced diet.
Since a squirrel is predominantly a herbivore, it needs a decent amount of vegetables, minerals and vitamins. You can do what we do and reserve the nuts for squirrel desert. For example, you can feed squirrels some nuts as desert after they’ve eaten all of their vegetables.
Unfortunately, squirrels can be a lot like children because if left up to them they would eat only the food that gives them the most pleasure – aka, nuts. If feeding squirrels in your backyard, you should always try to feed the little critters some nuts that are native to the area. In our area, we would feed the squirrels Beech, Hickory and Butternut nuts. However, you CAN feed them other nuts as well.
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As mentioned earlier, squirrels are predominantly herbivores, so they need to eat vegetables. You can get your local squirrels used to eating veggies by feeding them small amounts of raw fruits and vegetables.
Many squirrels love to eat apples, peas, watermelon, grapes, broccoli and yellow squash. However, it’s important to go easy on the fruit because it can reduce a squirrel’s ability to absorb calcium.
Nut Squares and Balls
You’ve probably never heard about squirrel nut balls. These balls are actually created with a special recipe, which was originally created by a squirrel nutritionist/rehabilitator. You should know that captive squirrels have different nutritional needs when compared with wild squirrels. A nut ball is almost like a super potent vitamin supplement that is made for squirrels.
This type of food isn’t nearly as important for wild squirrels, but if you have a pet squirrel, these balls and squares are quite important. At the end of the day, you can potentially feed squirrels ALMOST anything, but you should try to feed them the foods mentioned in this article while avoiding peanuts and field corn.
Avoid Corn and Peanuts
It’s hard to imagine that peanuts and corn could be bad for squirrels; after all, they do love nuts don’t they? As it turns out, peanuts are not really a type of nut. In fact, they’re known as legumes. Most squirrels do not regularly eat peanuts because they’re a type of food that has poor nutritional content.
It’s acceptable to feed them a peanut or two occasionally, but it’s crucial to make sure the outside shell isn’t growing toxic mold. You should also know that field corn isn’t healthy for squirrels, and it can grow the same type of toxic mold as peanuts, which can kill our little friends. There have been some very rare reports of squirrels eating meat such mice, rats and birds. More shocking is that squirrels will eat their own!
Why Should You Feed Squirrels?
Unfortunately, there are some people who are totally against feeding them, and to be honest, we really don’t understand how these individuals think. Let’s look at some of the top reasons to fill the tummies of your neighborhood squirrels.
Almost everyone who tries to feed wild birds ends up having a problem with squirrels pillaging their bird feeders. Since they love to eat most of the food that is in a typical bird feeder, can you really blame the little guys?
These creatures actually have a knack for destroying your average bird feeder, and they have no trouble laying ruin to feeders made of plastic or wood. They’re also known to steal wild birdseed that is extremely expensive, but it’s not because they’re planning on selling the seed off to a local vendor for a decent profit.
Did you know that most gray squirrels can jump as high as four feet into the air? These magnificent creatures can also leap horizontally across distances in excess of 11 feet. Unfortunately, for some bird feeders, there is almost nowhere to hide them that will stop fury critters from getting to it.
The top reason why people choose to feed them is because it attracts them to their property. Another reason is because it really does help them, and the additional food makes it easier for squirrels to survive a brutally cold winter.
Some people feed them because they’re into photography and want to snap some photos of these beautiful creatures. However, you can probably come up with a few of your reasons to feed them!
How to Handle Invading Squirrels
These little buggers are what we call opportunistic feeders, which means they go for the easiest and nearest source of food. If that source happens to be a large squirrel feeder on your property, then you can bet on them paying your some visits.
Some people have products for feeding birds, but they want those feeders to aid birds and not other animals. For those individuals who want to repel squirrels, it’s best to place a food source that is far away from any bird feeders.
If they have a feeding spot that is away from the products that feed birds, then they’ll have on reason to bother the birds. However, a surefire way to feed birds while repelling squirrels is to purchase a bird feeder made entirely of metal. If you want to learn more squirrel mating season have a look at our article on the squirrel mating call.
The 4 Different Types of Squirrel Feeders
So, you want to start feeding them? Well, you have a wide range of products to choose from, and some models are much more common than others. They usually want to eat a diet that contains many different types of food.
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Your neighborhood squirrels need to eat varying amounts of peanuts, corn, sunflower seeds, vegetables and fruits. However, it’s important to avoid feeding them too much of the same type of food. The majority of modern feeders are capable of holding corn or seed.
There are many models that are designed to make it difficult for them to actually get the food source, and the feeders are designed in this way to emulate the difficulty that a squirrel would face in the natural environment.
There is nothing wrong with making your local squirrels work for the food that you’ve bought for them. If you want your feeders to last for a long time, then you might want to avoid products made from plastic or wood because these materials can be chewed through quite easily.
To be honest, there are too many different products to list them all here. However, most of them have a basic design that has a covered food container. Some of the more expensive designs can be quite elaborate.
Various companies have created feeders that are ideal for having a little squirrel corner in your backyard. The selection of one variety or another will depend entirely on your preferences and the budget that you can dedicate to the purchase.
One – Woodlink Going Green Squirrel Munch Box
As the name indicates, this is an environment-friendly product. Woodlink Going Green Squirrel Munch Box happens to be one of the most popular items among squirrel lovers. The feeder is made from recycled plastic. There’s a clear plexiglass wall that shows how much food is left inside. A wooden ledge on the side of the feeder allows the squirrel to stand on it and enjoy a delicious meal.
The feeder can hold up to 17 pounds of mixed seeds. There’s a nail on the ledge that allows for the placement of one ear of corn. In terms of attachment, the back panel can easily be fastened to the trunk of a tree. All of the nails and the necessary attachment components are included in the kit.
Because it’s made of relatively thick plastic, the feeder is durable and it will remain in a good condition for years to come. Squirrels can easily reach the food and larger birds will be incapable of getting to the grains. On the downside, some buyers report that squirrels like to chew on the plastic – a fact that can potentially lead to the destruction of the feeder.
Two – Backyard Boys Woodworking BBW8 Squirrel Under Glass Feeder
Backyard Boys Woodworking BBW8 Squirrel Under Glass Feeder consists of a jar that can be filled with nuts or grains and a squirrel house construction. The volume of the jar is one gallon. The jar can be removed easily for refilling purposes and this also simplifies cleaning the feeder from the hulls that the squirrels will typically leave inside.
The problem with the feeder is that it’s made of wood that can deteriorate with the passage of time. Due to heat and snow, wood will get dry and it may potentially become deformed. If you’re looking for something a bit more durable, it’s a good idea to stick to squirrel feeders that are made of plastic.
Also, keep in mind that the feeder is a little bit small for bigger squirrel species. The opening of the box is 3.75 inches in diameter.
Three – Heath Outdoor Products 903 Squirrel Feeder
If you’re looking for a product that’s going to be a good distraction from the bird feeder that’s positioned in your backyard, Heath Outdoor Products 903 Squirrel Feeder would be it. designed to hold a single ear of corn, this is a feeder that squirrels will definitely enjoy.
The feeder is made from decay-resistant wood and it can easily be mounted on either a pole or a tree. There’s a ledge that the squirrel can sit on while it’s enjoying the delicious corn.
There’s nothing fancy about the particular feeder and this is one of its features that most buyers enjoy immensely. It’s possible to get a couple of those and position them throughout the property. Once they get used to the feeders, the squirrels will be quite entertaining to watch.
Four – Erva Bird Proof Squirrel Feeder
The final entry in the list is the Erva Bird Proof Squirrel Feeder. It’s cleverly constructed to keep birds away and allow only the smart squirrels to access the food.
Erva squirrel feeder has the shape of a house and the roof is a lid that can be lifted. This is how squirrels get access to the food. The feeder is made of tough metal and it’s probably the most long-lived entry in the list.
The feeder can hold about two pounds of mixed grains and it has a ledge where the squirrel can stand. It measures 12 by seven by seven inches. The only downside is that the product is a bit more expensive than the other feeders. Keeping in mind that it will remain in a good condition for a very long period of time, it may be a good idea to invest a bit more in the product.
Squirrels As Chefs and Farmers
Squirrels can be picky eaters, but will make do in almost any situation. Human food, especially which is high in salt, sugar, or chemical content, is particularly threatening because if it tastes good, the squirrel is not going to pass up free food.
In the wild, some squirrels go to extraordinary lengths to ensure they are well fed during the winter months. Burying nuts or stacking pinecones is common enough, but some squirrels make their own jerky. The red squirrel will take the time to hang mushrooms to dry in the trees to better preserve the food for later. The planning and effort involved in preserving perishable food speak to the remarkable planning abilities of the squirrel.
Another food staple not usually associated with the squirrel diet is maple syrup. To harvest maple syrup, the red squirrel must not only score the bark of the maple to elicit sap from the tree, but the sap must dehydrate in the sun, leaving the sugar-rich residue to be licked up by the patient squirrel. This residue can supply much needed caloric fuel for a squirrel during the harsh winter months.
By manipulating the growth of their food source, these squirrels are effectively farming.
Squirrel Diets Changing The Forest—One Nut At A Time
Gray squirrels, common to areas where hardwood nut trees abound, habitually bury their nuts for storage. In anticipation of winter famine, these squirrels will harvest far more food than is needed. Some buried nuts are forgotten, others not needed because the squirrel who hid them didn’t survive to find them later. These forgotten or abandoned nuts become the next generation of hardwood nut trees that support multiple other species. These animals depend on the regenerating forest for their very specific habitat requirements.
As squirrel habitats shrink, change, or reshape due to anything from human interference to natural disaster, squirrels with different storing habits are faced with environments they have not necessarily adapted to working with in the symbiotic ways of their natural setting. In one such case, the red squirrel is being pushed into the hardwood forest habitats of the gray squirrel. Since their diets are compatible, the red squirrel continues to flourish.
The problem arises when, according to Rob Swihart, wildlife ecologist from Purdue University, the red squirrels store their nuts the way they evolved to store food in their previous environment where, in damp forests of evergreen trees, they piled their pine cones for protection from moisture. Since the nuts are not being buried by the more prolific red squirrels, the nuts dry out and fail to grow into trees.
This lack of squirrel burying and subsequent tree growth has a direct impact on forest and the composition of trees. Since the tree growth is affected, so is the native animal population that depends on the health of the forest for survival.
Squirrel Feeding Tips
Since they will eat almost anything you give them, it’s important to make sure you’re not feeding them junk food. You want to make sure you’re feeding squirrels foods that are high in nutritional value. Unfortunately, our furry little friends are vulnerable to something called metabolic bone disease, or for short, MBD.
This is a very damaging disease because it causes a squirrel’s bones to weaken. A lot of people help rehabilitate wild animals, and they’ve noticed an increased occurrence of MBD. Since these furry little guys love sunflower seeds and peanuts, it’s easy for people to get carried away and feed them too many.
It’s not that sunflower seeds and peanuts are incredibly harmful to squirrels; it’s just that they have very low nutritional value. Raw peanuts can be especially dangerous because they can harbor toxic mold.
Our furry little friends need a proper balance of essential minerals because these minerals are crucial for maintaining adequate bone health. It’s important for squirrels to consume a balanced mixture of nuts, seeds, corn, fruit, leaves, fungi and bark.
How to Train a Squirrel
- Buy nuts, if you buy nuts that are still in a shell the squirrel will be more likely to bring the nut away bury it and come back for more. This is something that will be a great advantage to you.
- When you see a squirrel in your yard you should head outside and throw them a nut. Only throw them one. Try to lure them to you and keep them interested in coming back to your yard specifically.
- Once they have taken the nut and eaten it or buried it throw them another one, this time throw it a little closer then you threw the last one.
- Each time they take a nut offer another one while keeping the distance of the nuts closer and closer to you each time.
- If the squirrel will pick up nuts about 2-3 feet in front of you, you may try to feed them one from your hand. It is important that you stretch your arm out as far as possibly and lean back away from the squirrel so that you don’t alarm them and scare them off.
- If the squirrel does in fact take the nut from your hand then you have accomplished a great deal. If not then drop the nut just infront of your hand and keep it there. Let the squirrel come close enough so that it knows your hand isn’t going to attack it so next time it might trust you.
- Continue this until you either run out of nuts, get bored, or the squirrel leaves and doesn’t come back for more.
Forming a relationship with the same squirrels is very important. If the squirrel remember you and knows that you are there to feed them and not harm them they will respond better to you. Try to possibly make out something about the squirrel so you can remember the progress you have made with each particular one as to not scare them by thinking you’ve made progress with a certain one, and it not actually be that squirrel. Having a squirrel around as a friend is a great way to spend some time outside and relax. It is also a fun thing to show neighbors or children who have never seen squirrels get so close to a human before.
What about Bones?
Wild squirrels get their calcium intake from gnawing on deer antlers and animal bones. If you can’t find these specific bones mentioned, you can go to your local pet store and ask them about bones that you can give to them – they should understand what you need!
Do Squirrels Drink Water?
Ever wondered how much water they drink? As it turns out, squirrels actually drink a lot of water, and they need even more water during warm weather, lactation and pregnancy.
It’s crucial that they have a clean source of water, and if they cannot get this from their natural environment, then there is nothing wrong with helping them out.
Some squirrel feeders come with an attachments for fresh water, or you can purchased a product that is specifically designed to provide them with fresh water. Some people even set up a heated birdbath for squirrels to use during winter.
Give Them Natural Foods
In Wisconsin, a great natural food to give squirrels is the hazelnut. However, in other areas, there are many other natural foods that can be given to squirrels.
You can even grow or purchase hazelnuts and feed them to the little furry creatures in your backyard. A lot of people actually plan their backyard’s landscape to make it beneficial for squirrels, birds and other types of wildlife.
If you have a burning desire to feed the ones in your backyard, then that is perfectly fine, but it’s important to be respectful of your neighbors. There are some people who absolutely hate squirrels, as hard to imagine as that might be.
Even if your neighbors don’t like them, you can still feed your furry little friends, but you should avoid placing food near the property line. Set up your squirrel feeders in an area that is in the middle of your property, towards the back. At the end of the day, nature watching and squirrel feeding should be enjoyable.