What to Feed Squirrels
Looking to keep a squirrel away from your bird feeders? Aside from investing in squirrel-resistant bird feeders, one of the simplest options is to have a feeder specifically dedicated to squirrels!
This quick guide aims to answer the most common questions about feeding squirrels, including making sure they are eating the proper food according to their nutritional needs.
What are Squirrels Favorite Foods?
Most people think that squirrels only eat nuts and seeds, but that’s not the case. While a large portion of their diet revolves around plants, they also eat some animal-based material. For example, the Eastern Gray Squirrel is known to eat insects, amphibians, small mammals, bird eggs, young bird nestlings and even bones.
Still, plant-based material makes up the vast majority of their diet. In a setting without any human interaction, squirrels enjoy nuts, seeds, tree flowers and tree buds from a variety of trees including butternut, cedar, dogwood, elm, hackberry, hemlock, hickory, maple, mulberry, pine and spruce. They also snack on mushrooms and fungi from time to time.
When humans and squirrels interact, additional food enters their diet – some of which is quite good for them and derived from natural sources. Other favorites aren’t exactly natural, but the squirrels love them anyway. These additional foods include peanuts, peanut butter, pecans, pistachios, grapes, corn, squash, zucchini, pumpkin, strawberries, carrots, apples, sunflower seeds and even snack items, such as Oreo® cookies.
What to Feed Squirrels
Most people opt to feed squirrels peanuts and corn. Unfortunately, neither of these foods are all that great for squirrel health. Despite the fact that they can be good for birds, corn and peanuts fail to provide a real nutritional benefit for squirrels. That being said, peanuts and corn are fine in small amounts or as part of a more varied diet.
What’s the absolute best food for squirrels? Nuts still in their shells! In particular, a variety of walnuts, hickory nuts, white oak acorns, beechnuts make for a great squirrel diet. Since the shelled versions of these nuts are rarely for sale on a retail level, you can visit a nearby forest and pick up a variety and then dole them out in a squirrel feeder throughout the year.
Why should you only provide in-the-shell nuts to squirrels? Doing so gives them something constructive to gnaw, a habit that’s vital to keep their teeth healthy. It’s definitely better to have them gnawing a nut shell rather than your house!
Of course, bird seed can double as squirrel food – black oil sunflower seeds and nut-based blends, for example, will be big hits for the squirrels in your yard. These make for a great backup energy source when you can’t provide them with in-the-shell nuts.
|SQUIRREL FEEDING GUIDE|
|Acorn, Red Oak (high tannin)||Okay||High tannin nuts are usually eaten only in desperate times.|
|Acorn, White Oak (low tannin)||Excellent||Preferred over high tannin acorns.|
|Beechnut||Excellent||Leave in shell to promote gnawing.|
|Bread||Poor||Do not feed.|
|Butternut||Excellent||Leave in shell to promote gnawing.|
|Corn||Okay||Feed in small amounts only. Corn is a squirrel favorite, but fails to offer quality nutrition.|
|Fruits (Apple, cantaloupe, grapes, strawberries, watermelon)||Excellent||Offer small quantities of non-citrus fruit.|
|Hazelnuts||Excellent||Leave in shell to promote gnawing.|
|Human junk food (Candy, chocolate, chips)||Poor||Poor nutritional value.|
|Hickory Nuts||Excellent||A favorite for squirrels. Leave in shell to promote gnawing.|
|Niger/Nyjer® Seeds||Poor||Squirrels do not like niger. Do not feed.|
|Peanut Butter||Okay||A favorite, but should only be provided in moderation.|
|Peanuts, Raw||Dangerous||Raw peanuts may contain a fungus that can hurt squirrels.|
|Peanuts, Roasted||Okay||Unsalted and only in small amounts.|
|Pecans||Excellent||Shelled or unshelled are fine.|
|Pistachio||Okay||White pistachios only. Do not give them red pistachios.|
|Pumpkins and Pumpkin Seeds||Okay||Feel free to leave your Jack O’Lantern “guts” for squirrels. They will often chew on the pumpkin shell too.|
|Sunflower seeds||Okay||Although squirrels love sunflower seeds, provide them in small amounts only.|
|Vegetables (Broccoli, carrots, peas, yellow squash, zucchini)||Excellent||Generally an excellent source of nutrition.|
|Walnut, Black or American||Excellent||Leave in shell to promote gnawing.|
|Water||Excellent||Squirrels need water daily. Keep it fresh and unfrozen.|
What Can I Use to Feed Squirrels?
When using a bird feeder as bait to draw squirrels away from your primary bird feeders, then you will need a feeder that is easy for them to use.
The Perky-Pet® mesh line of feeders are particularly useful as dual bird and squirrel feeders. With all-metal construction, these feeders can’t be chewed through by a squirrel. The metal-mesh design also keeps a squirrel from emptying the feeder too quickly.
To help a squirrel get to a bait feeder, you should check out the guidelines on our Squirrels 101 and reverse that anti-squirrel advice.
- Keep a squirrel friendly feeder close to a tree.
- Make it easy for the squirrel to climb to the bait feeder.
- Don’t use a feeder that has a baffle or weight-activated shut-off.
- Pick foods that squirrels will love.
Other feeding options for squirrels include installing a seed table or simply scattering their favorite treats in a few choice areas near your regular bird feeders.
Is it Safe to Feed Squirrels?
For the most part, squirrels are among the safer wild animals to feed. They’re smart, non-aggressive and quick, a combination of attributes that keeps them safe when finding new food sources, including food provided by humans.
Still it’s important to remember that squirrels are wild animals, so there’s a certain inherent danger if you opt to feed them. A squirrel may get excited when you are refilling the feeder and jump on you. Squirrels can also carry fleas, mites and other parasites that could be transferred to you if those bugs linger on the feeder.
Is it Legal to Feed Squirrels?
A number of states and municipalities have laws on the books that make it illegal to intentionally feed squirrels. The reason these measures are enacted is to keep wildlife from becoming dependent on humans. These laws also try to protect people from being bitten or otherwise attacked by an overzealous squirrel. Finally, the rules against feeding squirrels are aimed at keep the squirrel population in check, without which they could become a public nuisance.
All that being said, it’s best to check the specific rules for your state and municipality. Some areas may limit feeding squirrels on public land, but not on privately owned property. Further conversations with a local game officer may help you understand how such a law applies to you.
Also remember that if your squirrels become too tame and too used to your presence, they can become nuisances. This is most likely to happen when they decide their outdoor nests aren’t comfortable enough and try moving into your attic. Without their natural fear of you as a potential predator, then they’re less likely to think twice before invading your space.
Have you set up a squirrel feeder or made other plans for feeding squirrels in your yard? If so, let us know in the comments below or by showing us your squirrel pictures on Facebook. Regardless of whether you feed squirrels in an effort to bait them away from your bird feeders, or just to be nice, your squirrels will certainly appreciate it and we want to hear all about it.
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