What Do Squirrels Eat? 4 Facts About Their Diet

what do squirrels eat

If there are trees and bushes in your backyard, then it won’t be a surprise to find one or two squirrels lurking in your home. You will also find patches on the ground where they dig to bury food. If you are concerned about what these tiny creatures will eat in your home, this article gives you 4 interesting facts about what do squirrels eat.

Squirrel Introduction

Squirrel Introduction

A squirrel is a nimble, bushy-tailed rodent found in different parts of the world. It belongs to the Sciuridae family, which consists of prairie dogs, marmots, and chipmunks.

According to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), there are over 200 species of squirrels in the world. These species are categorized into three main groups: tree squirrels, flying squirrels, and ground squirrels.

The three groups are further divided into various clusters including Albino, Mountain Tree, Spotted, Antelope, Douglas, American Red, Pygmy, Fox, Northern Flying, Arizona Gray, Southern, Idaho, Arctic Ground, Albert’s, Richardson, Franklin, Rock, White, and Black squirrels.

The different types of squirrels also vary greatly in size, with the smallest squirrel being the African Pygmy. This squirrel is estimated to grow up to 5 inches (7 to 13 centimeters) long. A mature Pygmy squirrel weighs only 0.35 ounces (10 grams).

The world’s largest squirrel is the Indian giant, which grows up to 36 inches (1 meter) long and weighs about 4 pounds (I.8kg).

Grey squirrel is the most common type of squirrel in North America and it grows to about 20 inches (50.8 centimeters) long. Its long tail adds another 6 to 9.5 inches to its length. This squirrel weighs about 1.5 pounds (o,68kg). it’s possible to have several types of squirrels in your backyard, especially if it’s conducive for them.

A group of squirrels is referred to as a scurry or dray. One thing you need to know about squirrels is that they are very territorial. So, if one species invades another’s territory, they will fight to the death.

A female squirrel is very vicious when defending its kits. It’s also important to note that some squirrels are crepuscular—they are only active at sunrise and sunset.

Where Do Squirrels Live?

Where Do Squirrels Live

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), squirrels can survive in any part of the world apart from Australia and Antarctica. However, different types of squirrels prefer different habitats. For instance, tree squirrels prefer wooded areas because they live in trees, while ground squirrels live in the ground.

Ground squirrels dig burrows in the ground to live in and hide what they catch. Some species of squirrels hibernate in underground burrows in winter to stay warm. Flying squirrels, on the other hand, dig holes in trees or make nests into the crooks of branches.

Although they are referred to as flying squirrels, they do not have wings. They just spread the muscle membrane between their legs and body to be able to slide on the air. Flying squirrels can slide up to 48 meters in the air. This is what has earned them the name flying squirrels.

According to the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web, a female squirrel can carry her young ones for a gestation period of between 29 and 65 days, depending on her size and species.

This means that smaller squirrels have a shorter gestation period than their larger counterparts. A mother squirrel gives birth to between two and eight kits at once.

Kits are born blind and will depend on their mother for about two to three months. The weaning of kits starts after seven to eight weeks.

The Massachusetts Department of Wildlife and Fisheries reports that when kits leave their mother’s nest, they do not go farther than two miles. Some species of squirrels can have a litter every few months or twice a year.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List claims that some of the rare species of squirrels are now endangered. These species include:

• San Joaquin antelope ground squirrels

• Wooly flying squirrels

• Sipora flying squirrels

• Mentawi flying squirrels

• Siberut flying squirrels

• Smoky flying squirrels

• Vincent’s bush squirrels

• Baja California rock squirrels

• Idaho ground squirrels

• Perote ground squirrels

• Fraternal squirrels

• Mearn’s squirrels

4 Important Facts About Squirrel’s Diet

Squirrel’s Diet

  • Vegetarians

If you are wondering why your backyard is attracting so many squirrels, you should understand that squirrels are vegetarians. Therefore, the trees and plants in your backyard could be good enough for their survival. But this is not to say that squirrels are picky eaters.

In fact, these tiny creatures can feed on practically anything edible. Overall, the squirrel’s diet consists of vegetables, nuts, and fruits. These ingredients can be found almost in every suburban backyard. Therefore, your kitchen garden crops and trees in your backyard could be attracting squirrels to your home.

Because backyard gardens have a wide range of flora to provide you with different types of vegetables and fruits throughout the year, they make for a perfect environment for squirrels to thrive. This might be good for the squirrels but it doesn’t look good for your home.

  • Special Winter and Fall Diet

Squirrels are wise creatures because they know how to save for a rainy day. A few months before the start of winter, squirrels are quite busy gathering food and burying it in the ground. They usually collect nuts, grains, and other non-perishable foods and keep them in their underground tunnels, nests, and holes in trees to eat them during winter.

That’s why you will find squirrels digging many holes in your backyard. Sometimes squirrels will dig many fake holes and hide their foods somewhere else just to keep other opportunistic animals from discovering their real refuge. Since squirrels do not hibernate, they have to store enough food for their survival in the cold months.

So, they are always collecting and storing food throughout the year. Some of the favorite foods for squirrels include acorns, walnuts, osage orange fruits, and hickory nuts. But they also feed on wild nuts, fruits, and tree buds, especially when their favorite food is scarce in winter.

  • Squirrel’s Favorite Summer Diet

In summer, squirrels feed on a wide range of foods including berries, fruits, and vegetables. For instance, they will feast on oranges, corn, avocados, apricots, mangos, among others. If you have apples in your backyard, you will notice bite marks on the leaves and fruits.

Since squirrels are rodents, they have four front teeth that grow continuously. They use these teeth to bite through hard fruits like apples, oranges, and nuts. You will also find bite marks on your tomatoes, cucumbers, and other vegetables in your kitchen garden. Nothing is off-limits for squirrels.

  • Carnivorous Diet

Some species of squirrels can eat meat. For instance, the flying squirrel is known to eat a wide range of carnivorous foods including insects, bird eggs, and nestlings. Furthermore, kits survive on their mother’s milk because they can’t leave the nest until they are 40 days old. Plus, they are not fully weaned until they are about 70 days old.

What Foods Are Bad for Squirrels?

What Foods Are Bad for Squirrels

If you are planning to keep a squirrel in your house as a pet, you need to know what it can eat and what it can’t. You also need to understand that a squirrel requires a balanced diet to live a long, healthy life. So, make sure your squirrel’s diet has enough protein, fat, vitamins, carbohydrates, and minerals.

Your squirrel’s diet should have enough calcium. It is also advised that you adjust your squirrel’s diet according to its weight and age. For instance, older, overweight, or less active squirrels should have foods that are low in sugar, starch, and fat.

It is important to mention that pits and seeds are dangerous for squirrels because they contain toxins that can damage your squirrel’s gut and cause other serious health problems. So, just stick to berries. Also, do not give your squirrel figs, fruit juices, dried fruits, persimmons, prunes, raisins, and plums.

Although these fruits and vegetables won’t poison your squirrel, they do not offer any nutritional value to it. Instead, they are high in sugar, which can cause many health problems in your squirrel. Other types of foods that should not be given to squirrels include:

• Sugary foods like candy, cookies, granola, and sweetened breakfast cereals

• High-starch foods such as pasta, bread, rice, and potatoes

• Salty foods

• Human junk food

• Cashews

• Sunflower seeds

• Dried corn

• Pine nuts

Should I Feed Squirrels in Winter?

Should I Feed Squirrels in Winter

In winter, some wild animals hibernate until the cold season is over. But others remain active throughout the cold season, searching for food and shelter. Although most species of squirrels do not hibernate in winter, they are active only for a few hours every day.

So, even if the squirrels in your home are not pets, you can feed them in winter because they have very little time to search for food. Besides, the burrows where they hide their food could be covered in snow, making it difficult for the squirrels to access it.

Since female squirrels begin their gestation period in January, they require enough food during winter. Also, the type of food that squirrels eat varies depending on the season. The best foods to give your squirrel in winter include:

• Walnuts

• Hazelnuts

• Beechnuts

• Hornbeam seeds

• Sunflower seeds

• Dried maize kernels

• Chestnuts

• Raisins

• Apple

• Pear

• Carrot

• Cucumber

• Courgette

• Broccoli

Frequently Asked Questions About Squirrels

Is it okay to feed squirrels in my yard?

Although squirrels can be frustrating sometimes, especially when they destroy crops and other home installations, some people find delight in treating their squirrels as their companions.

So, there is no harm in feeding squirrels in your yard, especially when the weather doesn’t allow them to move around in search of food.

How do squirrels go down trees and buildings so easily?

Squirrels, especially tree squirrels, can move very fast and nimbly down a tree or building, even headfirst climbing down a tree. Many people wrongly believe that the sharp claws prevent squirrels from tumbling.

The truth is that the double-jointed ankles in squirrels make it easy for the tiny creatures to climb down trees fast because they can turn their hide legs around completely and cling to the tree firmly with their sharp back claws regardless of the direction they are going.

Why do squirrels chew on my trees?

Sometimes squirrels will chew on your trees because they are hungry. So, they will strip the barks to eat on them. In other instances, they will gnaw on the bark to file their teeth. Gnawing keeps their front teeth sharp and short.

In Summary

Whether you are keeping squirrels in your home as pets or they just love your yard, it is important to know what do squirrels eat and how do they live. This article has provided you with all the important facts about squirrels and their diets. So, you should have an easy time feeding them.

Gretchen Walker
Gretchen is a homemaker by day and writer by night. She takes a keen interest in life as it unfolds around her and spends her free time observing people go about their everyday affairs.