What Do Squirrels Eat?
Those bushy-tailed squirrels are often seen scurrying about in search of food. As omnivores, their diet consists of various plant and animal-based foods. In their natural habitats, squirrels can nibble on diverse food sources such as nuts, seeds, fruits, and even insects or bird’s eggs. They are truly adaptable creatures, making them quite fascinating to learn about.
Foraging is a vital aspect of a squirrel’s life. Depending on the season and available resources, some of their favorite foods include nuts like hazelnuts, hickory, walnuts, wild berries, and seasonal treats such as Osage oranges. However, squirrels are also opportunistic eaters, meaning they won’t hesitate to dig into unguarded bird nests or consume human food found in trash or bird feeders. This adaptability allows them to thrive in various environments and maintain a balanced, diverse diet.
Types of Squirrels
Squirrels belong to the family Sciuridae, which includes various species of rodents. They are mainly categorized into four groups: Tree Squirrels, Ground Squirrels, Flying Squirrels, and Striped Squirrels. Each species has unique features, habitat, and food preferences.
Tree squirrels are the most common type in people’s backyards. These squirrels feed predominantly on nuts and tree seeds, including coniferous and deciduous species. Their diet consists of a variety of items, such as:
- Bird seeds
Some popular tree squirrel species include the Grey Squirrel, Red Squirrel, and Fox Squirrel.
Ground squirrels live in burrows or tunnels and spend most of their time on the ground rather than in trees. Their diet primarily consists of seeds and vegetation. Ground squirrels also consume insects and other small animals when available. These squirrels hibernate during the colder months to conserve energy.
Flying squirrels are unique among squirrel species due to the skin flaps that extend from their wrists to their ankles, allowing them to glide from tree to tree. They are nocturnal and feed on a variety of plant and animal materials, such as:
- Bird eggs
- Small birds and bird nests
Flying squirrels are also known to raid small bird nests and consume newly hatched chicks.
Striped squirrels are characterized by the distinctive stripes on their fur. These squirrels are found in various geographic locations worldwide and are known for their agile movements and exceptional climbing skills. Their diet consists of a mix of plant and animal sources, such as:
- Small vertebrates
Each of these squirrel species has unique characteristics, food preferences, and habitat requirements, making them interesting to learn about and observe in the wild.
Nuts and Seeds
Squirrels are particularly fond of nuts and seeds as they form a crucial part of their diet. They enjoy munching on acorns, hazelnuts, walnuts, hickory nuts, and beechnuts. Apart from their natural food sources, squirrels are also known to eat sunflower seeds and corn from bird feeders and gardens.
A list of nuts and seeds that squirrels eat includes:
- Hickory nuts
- Sunflower seeds
Vegetables and Fruits
Squirrels also feed on a variety of fruits and vegetables that are commonly found in their habitats. They are known to eat wild berries seasonally, with Osage oranges being a particular favorite. Other fruits and vegetables that make up a squirrel’s diet are plant materials, fruits like apples and cherries, and sometimes even fungi.
Some common vegetables and fruits squirrels eat are:
- Wild berries
- Osage oranges
- Plant materials
Insects and Other Protein Sources
In addition to plant-based food sources, squirrels are omnivorous creatures and consume small amounts of protein from insects and other animals. They have been observed eating bird eggs and even newly hatched chicks when available. Some squirrels also consume insects, small mammals, and tree sap to meet their protein requirements.
Some protein sources that are part of a squirrel’s diet include:
- Bird eggs
- Small mammals
- Tree sap
In summary, squirrels have a diverse diet that includes nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and occasional protein sources. The specific diet varies depending on the squirrel species and their habitat, but they are opportunistic eaters who adapt to the food sources they encounter.
Seasonal Diets and Behavior
Squirrels are opportunistic eaters, and their diets vary depending on the season. Let’s discuss squirrels’ seasonal diets and behavior to help us better understand their eating habits.
In spring, squirrels eat tree buds, flowers, and young leaves. They may also take advantage of the availability of insects and small mammals as food sources during this time. Tree sap can be another food item for squirrels, providing them with essential nutrients and sugars to support their increased energy demands for reproduction and raising their young.
During the summer, squirrels consume tree buds, flowers, and leaves. However, they also begin incorporating more fruits and vegetables into their diets. Summer provides an abundance of juicy and delicious fruits, such as berries and plums, which squirrels love to eat. Furthermore, these animals will search for additional protein sources, such as insects and fungi, during this period.
The fall season is marked by the availability of tree nuts like hazelnuts, hickory, walnuts, and beechnuts, which are a significant part of a squirrel’s diet.
In addition to these staples, squirrels eat wild berries, fruits, and other plant materials. They may also feast on unguarded bird eggs and newly hatched chicks if they come across them.
In fall, squirrels begin to hoard food in preparation for the upcoming winter months. They store their nuts and seeds in various locations, ensuring they have enough resources to sustain them through the winter.
In winter, food becomes scarce for squirrels. They primarily rely on their caches of nuts and seeds from the fall season. During this time, squirrels may also eat tree bark if other food sources are limited. They spend their time conserving energy and searching for the food they’ve stored during the colder months to survive until spring arrives.
Feeding Squirrels in Your Yard
What to Feed Squirrels
Squirrels are natural foragers and have a diverse diet. They mainly consume seeds, nuts, fruits, fungi, eggs, and insects, though their diet may vary depending on what they find in their environment. Some safe and healthy options for feeding squirrels in your backyard include:
- Nuts: Offer large nuts with their shells, such as walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts. The gnawing keeps their teeth healthy.
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, berries, cherries, figs, grapes, kiwi, mangos, peaches, tomatoes, and watermelon are appropriate for squirrels.
- Vegetables: Healthy vegetables for squirrels include arugula and other leafy greens.
It’s best to provide these foods in their raw form, as squirrels gain the most nutrition from unprocessed meals.
To keep your yard wildlife-friendly, consider installing a squirrel feeder. These feeders are designed specifically for squirrels, allowing them to access food easily while minimizing competition with birds. Ensure your squirrel feeder is sturdy and secure, as squirrels can be agile and persistently access food.
Bird feeders can sometimes attract squirrels, especially if they contain seeds or nuts that squirrels enjoy. To avoid interfering with the birds, consider investing in squirrel-proof bird feeders. These feeders are designed to discourage squirrels from stealing bird food, helping to maintain peaceful coexistence between the squirrels and birds in your yard.
By providing suitable food options and feeders, you can support your local squirrel population while creating a welcoming environment for squirrels and birds in your backyard.
Squirrel-Proofing Bird Feeders
Bird feeders often attract squirrels in search of an easy meal. To maintain a squirrel-free bird feeding zone, consider these tips:
- Baffle them: Install a metal or plastic baffle (a cone or dome-shaped barrier) on the feeder pole, making it impossible for squirrels to climb up.
- Spice it up: Squirrels are sensitive to the capsaicin in hot pepper, so add some to your bird seed. Birds don’t have the same reaction, which won’t harm them.
- Choose a specialized feeder: Invest in a squirrel-proof feeder to keep squirrels at bay. These include weight-sensitive feeders that close off access to the seed when a squirrel attempts to feed or feeders surrounded by cages that only allow small birds to enter.
- Location matters: Place the bird feeder at least 10 feet away from trees or structures that squirrels can jump from, and hang it at least 5 feet above the ground.
By employing these squirrel-repellent measures, you can protect your home and garden from unwanted squirrel intrusions. Incorporate the tips mentioned above and enjoy a squirrel-free environment.
Special Squirrel Species And Their Diets
This section will discuss some of the unique squirrel species and their diet preferences. These squirrel species include:
Eastern Gray Squirrel
The Eastern Gray Squirrel is a common squirrel species found in North America. Their diet primarily consists of nuts, seeds, and buds from trees. They have a particular fondness for acorns, which they often store for later consumption. In addition to nuts, Eastern Gray Squirrels also eat plant materials, bird’s eggs, insects, and fungi.
Indian Giant Squirrel
The Indian Giant Squirrel, also known as the Malabar Giant Squirrel, is native to India. This large tropical squirrel has a diet that mostly consists of:
- Tree bark
As these squirrels are arboreal, they typically forage for food in the trees and rarely venture down to the ground.
Florida Gray Squirrel
The Florida Gray Squirrel is a subspecies of the Eastern Gray Squirrel and shares much of the same diet. They are found mainly in the state of Florida and are known to consume a variety of nuts, seeds, and plant material. Florida Gray Squirrels also eat:
- Bird eggs
- Small mammals
Black squirrels are not a separate species but rather a color variation of other tree squirrels, often the Eastern Gray and Fox Squirrels. Since they are a variation, their diet is similar to the primary species they belong to, which generally includes nuts, seeds, buds, insects, and occasionally bird eggs.
Despite their different habitats and appearances, these special squirrel species demonstrate a diverse and adaptive diet, allowing them to thrive in their respective environments.