What Do Squirrels Eat?
Squirrels are agile and charismatic rodents often found scampering through trees and parks. With their bushy tails, sharp claws, and boundless energy, squirrels have captured the curiosity and admiration of people worldwide. From urban parks to rural forests, these small creatures play a significant role in ecosystems while simultaneously providing moments of delight and wonder for those who encounter them. In this article, we’ll dive deep into the world of squirrels’ diets, exploring the wide array of foods that these furry critters consume to stay nourished and healthy.
What Do Squirrels Eat in the Wild?
Squirrels are omnivores, meaning they have a varied diet that includes both plant and animal matter. This diversity allows them to adapt to different environments and seasons, ensuring their survival even in challenging conditions.
Squirrels have a varied diet that typically consists of a combination of nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and even some animal matter. Their diet can vary depending on the season and the availability of food. Here’s a breakdown of what squirrels commonly eat:
Squirrels are renowned for their love of nuts, an essential part of their diet. These resourceful creatures have honed their skills to expertly crack open the tough shells of various nuts, such as acorns, walnuts, and hazelnuts. With their sharp incisors, squirrels meticulously gnaw through the outer layers to access the nutrient-rich kernels within. Nuts are a vital source of sustenance and also serve as a fantastic food source during the winter.
Watching squirrels eating finding and burying nuts is a testament to their dexterity and determination. These agile creatures often perch themselves on branches or find comfortable spots on the ground to eat their nuts. Holding the nut securely between their paws, squirrels deftly work to expose the edible kernel. Squirrels’ affinity for nuts goes beyond just sustenance; it’s a behavior that reveals their intricate relationship with the environment and underscores their role as foragers, conservationists of seeds, and dynamic contributors to the biodiversity of their habitats.
Squirrels are known to cache nuts by burying them in the ground, creating hidden stashes that serve as winter reserves when food becomes scarce. This strategy demonstrates their remarkable ability to anticipate future needs and showcases their role in forest ecology by contributing to seed dispersal as forgotten nuts sprout into new plants.
What Do Squirrels Eat Besides Nuts?
Squirrels usually enjoy eating fruit. Their expert climbing ability enables squirrels to access fruit from trees and bushes with ease. Squirrels have been known to eat apples, pears, plums, peaches, bananas, grapes, cherries, kiwi, as well as all kinds of berries, including strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. The sugar in fruit provides them with a quick energy release to forage for more food sources. However, squirrels should eat fruit in moderation because it can reduce their ability to intake calcium.
Another staple of the squirrels’ diets are vegetables. Squirrels frequently eat leafy green vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, kale, green beans, as well as corn, cabbage, celery, cauliflower, peas, asparagus, arugula, broccoli and carrots. Squirrels can be a nuisance for vegetable gardeners as they will steal food from gardens and farms whenever they can.
Squirrels will also eat plants, grass, leaves and roots, especially young plant stalks and tree branches, which tend to be the softest. Squirrels tend to stick to new growth trees and buds as a food source.
Squirrels will eat the seeds from many plants and flowers, including sunflower seeds, poppy seeds and pumpkin seeds. They also eat plant bulbs and petals when they flower during the spring.
Fungi are another common food source for squirrels. Mushrooms can be found in abundance in many forests and squirrels will forage for them. Squirrels will also eat morels, truffles and lichen when available.
Squirrels have been known to steal eggs from small animals such as robins, blackbirds and chickens when other sources of food are unavailable. They will sometimes eat egg hatchlings, chicks and even baby birds if they are have been separated from their nests.
Squirrels are notorious for raiding bird feeders filled with seeds. Their agile and clever nature allows them to find ways to access the bird food, much to the frustration of many bird enthusiasts.
What Do Squirrels Eat in the Winter?
During the winter months, when food sources become scarcer, squirrels adapt their diet to suit the conditions. While their preferred food items like nuts, seeds, and fruits might be less available, squirrels rely heavily on the stored food they’ve collected during more plentiful times. They retrieve the caches of nuts they’ve hidden in various locations, tapping into their remarkable memory and sense of smell to locate these hidden treasures.
Squirrels are known for their survival strategies, and in winter, they might broaden their diet to include items they might otherwise overlook. In some cases, they might consume bark, twigs, and even dormant buds from trees. These unconventional food sources provide essential nutrients and help them endure the scarcity of their usual fare. Water intake might also be supplemented by eating snow or licking ice for hydration.
In essence, a squirrel’s wintertime diet is a combination of their stored reserves and whatever supplementary sustenance they can find amidst the challenges of the season.
Do Squirrels Eat Meat?
Meat isn’t squirrels first choice of food, but they will eat meat if other sources of food are unavailable.
Squirrels have been known to eat insects, including ants, caterpillars, grasshoppers and crickets, as well as small birds, small snakes and even other rodents. Squirrel front teeth (incisors) are sharp enough to cut through the skin of mammals and reptiles and their cheek teeth are ideal for chewing meat. Insects are a excellent source of protein for squirrels. Squirrels in some climates where nuts and vegetables are harder to find will eat more insects and other meat.
Squirrels have been known to eat insects, including ants, caterpillars, grasshoppers and crickets, as well as small birds, small snakes and even other rodents. Some species of squirrels are more predatory than others and will hunt for birds, mice, lizards and snakes more frequently. Squirrels in some climates where nuts and vegetables are harder to find will eat more insects and other meat.
One lesser known facts about squirrels is that have even been observed working in large groups of 10 or more to attack and kill rodents, reptiles and even chickens.
What Do Different Species of Squirrels Eat?
Red squirrels primarily eat a varied diet consisting of nuts, seeds, fruits, fungi, and occasionally insects. Their diet can change depending on the availability of these food sources throughout the year. Here’s a breakdown of their diet by season:
During the warmer months, red squirrels feed on buds, flowers, and young leaves. They also consume a variety of fruits such as berries, apples, and cherries. Insects and bird eggs might be added to their diet during this time.
Autumn is a crucial time for red squirrels to gather and store food for the coming winter. They focus on collecting a variety of nuts, including acorns, hazelnuts, and beech nuts. Nuts are an essential energy source during the winter months. They may also forage for seeds and continue to feed on fruits if available.
In winter, when fresh food becomes scarce, red squirrels rely heavily on the food they’ve stored during the autumn. Nuts are a primary food source, providing them with the necessary fat and energy to survive the cold months. They can also feed on tree bark and twigs in situations when other food sources are scarce. Red squirrels are well known for burying food caches for the winter but commonly can’t find the food they buried! This is because their use their memory to find the general area where they buried the food then use scent to locate exactly where their food is buried.
Gray squirrels’ diet primarily consists of nuts, berries, acorns, flowers and tree buds. They will also plant roots and insects on occasion. Like other species of squirrels, gray tree squirrel bury their food for the winter, but they are usually better than red squirrels at finding where they have buried their caches. Gray squirrels have been known to steal the food buried by other squirrel species. Gray squirrels are opportunistic feeders and will adapt their diet based on what is available in their environment. They are known for their ability to forage and find food in a wide range of habitats, including urban areas, forests, and suburban neighborhoods.
Ground squirrels commonly eat the fruits from trees trees. Ground squirrels are especially partial to the fruit from fruit trees, especially from saplings. They also acorns, walnuts and pistachios from nut trees. Ground squirrels will also steal food from vegetable gardens, especially leafy green vegetables and roots, and will eat eggs, tree bark, seeds and insects if they can’t find a stable supply of nuts and fruit.
Giving a Squirrel Food
Many people see squirrels in public parks or in their garden and wonder “what do squirrels like to eat?” Well, the answer is, “they will eat just about anything you give them!” However, just because squirrels can eat anything doesn’t mean they should eat anything!
Squirrels successful cohabit with humans in urban, suburban and rural areas and this is partly due to how many people regard them as cute and find their acrobatic antics amusing. If you’re looking to feed some squirrels, here are some of the best foods options to give them:
Squirrels are very fond of birdseeds. The nuts and grains in birdseeds make them ideal for squirrels to eat. Many people like to put seeds into bird feeders in the gardens to birdwatch and squirrels are adept and finding ways to steal birdseeds from most feeders feeders. With their nimble and acrobatic bodies, squirrels will make long leaps and dangerous climbs in precarious positions to try and get at the seeds in bird feeders. When offering birdseeds to squirrels, it’s important to note that they have a preference for larger seeds such as sunflower seeds, which provide a good source of energy and nutrients.
Many brands of cereals are made with nuts and grains and they are the ideal food to give to squirrels if you don’t have access to anything else. Squirrels enjoy most brands of cereal and the high sugar content in most cereals give squirrels a major energy boost, much more than they would get with any food source they would find naturally.
Squirrels are quite fond of eating cheese. Cheese is another human food product that squirrels wouldn’t find in nature but with so many squirrels living close to humans they have developed a taste for the scraps of different cheeses that are left out. Squirrels have been known to eat scraps of Swiss, mozzarella, cheddar and other kinds of cheese. They aren’t too fussy about whether they are fresh, grilled or moldy. Squirrels will also eat cheese sandwiches, cheese pizzas and even crackers. Cheese provides squirrels with some extra fat to store for the winter.
Foods Squirrels Should Avoid
Squirrels have proved themselves quite adept at stealing dog food and cat food. If you leave pet food outside for your dog or cat, it doesn’t take most squirrels long to figure out that there’s a regular supply of food and try to steal some. By nature squirrels are forgers and scavengers and will eat just about any kind of pet food they can find. However, food intended for other pets is usually not healthy for squirrels to eat, but that doesn’t stop them from gorging themselves when presented with the opportunity.
Waste, Garbage and Compost
Squirrels will help themselves to just about any food scraps left outside or in garbage cans. They will happily devour any leftover food they can find. Meat, vegetables and many grains are harmless to squirrels, but foods that are heavily processed and contain high levels of unsaturated fat and sugar can be harmful to squirrels.
Ultimately, instead of asking what squirrels eat, it would be easier to ask “what don’t they eat?” Squirrels will eat just about any food they can find and their diets are surprisingly diverse. As forgers, squirrels will eat whatever foods they can find, and if they can’t find a regular supply of nuts, grains, vegetables or fruits, they will scavenge for whatever sources of nutrition they can. However, squirrels tend to leave spicy or very pungent foods such as garlic, onions or peppers alone. Many processed human foods are bad for squirrels. Chocolate, candy, bread, burger meats, and other foods that squirrels scavenge for are unhealthy for them as well. As a general rule of thumb, if it doesn’t come from nature, it probably isn’t good for squirrels..