What Do Squirrels Eat?

There are over 200 different species of squirrels which includes the popular red tree squirrels, fox squirrels and striped squirrels among many more. You may have wondered what they eat as part of their diet and you are wise to research it as the type of squirrel may determine what it can have and what it can’t have.

Although they may seem it, squirrels aren’t actually picky when it comes to what they eat and they will eat anything that they can find.

It is important to know what they can or can’t eat in order to prevent them from suffering which is why we have gathered everything you need to know when it comes to their diets and how it differs depending on the time of year and what species you are dealing with. 

What kind of creatures are squirrels?

The first thing to know is what kind of creature squirrels are as this will determine what kind of diet they naturally adhere to in the wild. Classed as rodents, squirrels are part of the Sciuridae family meaning that they lead a predominantly herbivore diet so their diet mainly consists of nuts, plants and seeds.

However, what they specifically eat can vary throughout the year with winter signalling their hibernation period and they will live their drey for flowers, grasses and herbs. Bear in mind that, as stated before, squirrels will eat anything they can find so it’s important to make sure that you understand their diet so you’re not putting them in danger. 

Diet in the wild

There is some skepticism when it comes to feeding wild animals with some people saying that it is illegal and others saying that it encourages them to come back for more food. However, even if you avoid feeding wild squirrels, it is very likely that they have foraged through your trash for scraps and waste.

If there is plenty of food available where they live then they probably won’t be going to your property. If you do have a lot of squirrels coming to your home then using squirrels feeders will stop them from going through your trash.

They don’t like to put a lot of effort into their foraging so making sure you keep your trash secure and out of sight should do the trick. 

What squirrels eat

Now that you know the important facts about the basic squirrel diet, it’s time to learn about the specific foods that squirrels eat in the wild and what you should feed them should you want to.

The great thing about a squirrel’s natural diet is that the foods they do eat are fresh products that are naturally grown so you don’t have to go out of your way to buy specific foods.  

Berries

The first thing that squirrels eat are berries. Berries have unprocessed sugars which are a great source of energy for squirrels as it keeps them active throughout the day. Berries grow all over the wild so they’re easy to find and eat.

The most common berries that squirrels love to eat include blackberries, blueberries and strawberries among many more. If there aren’t enough in the wild, they’ll venture into gardens so be sure that your homegrown berries are protected if you don’t want the squirrels to find them. 

Fruits and vegetables

The next foods that squirrels eat are fruits and vegetables which probably comes as no surprise. Again, these foods are naturally grown making them easy for squirrels to locate and find.

The most popular kinds of fruits that squirrels love to eat include bananas, plums and watermelons with broccoli, kale and zucchinis being among the most popular kinds of vegetables that are incorporated in their diet. Fruits and vegetables are highly beneficial to squirrels as they contain all the nutrients they need for a healthy diet. 

In the garden

As previously mentioned, squirrels have a bit of a reputation for sneaking into gardens and eating whatever fresh produce they can find.

Whether it is beans, Brussel sprouts and pumpkins, squirrels love to fill their diet with as much fruits and vegetables as they can. If you grow tomatoes then the squirrels will leave the green ones and only have the red ones. 

Seasonal changes

The squirrel diet changes depending on the time of year as they will need to adjust according to what foods are in season which can differ depending on where they live. Here, we delve into what to expect from the squirrel’s diet during each season: 

Winter

Starting with winter, this time of year sees most squirrel species in their hibernation period. With the exception of certain squirrels such as the grey squirrels, the species that do hibernate sleep for at least twelve hours a day.

This means that when they become hungry, they’ll have their snacks in the drey that they have accumulated during the other seasons of the year. Squirrels are intelligent creatures and can make their food last for years.

Even though they have reputations for eating a lot of food, they are capable of keeping some to the side just in case of emergency. For the squirrel species that don’t hibernate such as the grey squirrel, they will live on tree bark through the winter months. 

Spring

When the squirrels have come out of hibernation, they begin to feed on flowers and seeds which have blossomed during these months. They love to make the most of freshly grown foods and are also known for stacking up on seeds from bird feeders in gardens.

Bear in mind that squirrels are capable of eating birds and their eggs so you can choose to purchase a squirrel proof bird feeder should you wish to prevent this from happening. 

Summer

Moving onto summer and this is when the berries begin to dominate the diett as well as various fruits and vegetables. During this time, grey squirrels like to feed on fungi and flying squirrels love to eat fungus and lichen.

This can include acorn truffles that they have to dig for and they are capable of eating more varieties of mushrooms than humans. This is because they are immune to the amanita toxins in mushrooms that can cause poisoning in humans. The summer months will be when the squirrels will start to stack up for the winter months. 

Fall

The fall months is when squirrels begin to collect a variety of nuts and acorns. Whether it is almonds, cashews or pistachios among many other varieties, squirrels can eat any kind of nut with or without the shell.

If a squirrel eats a nut with the shell, they can extract the nut from within which in turn helps to sharpen their teeth. When it comes to grey squirrels, they don’t eat so much in this period and may instead raid bird’s nests for their eggs or they may dig up plants.

What you should avoid giving squirrels

Squirrels love to eat a variety of different foods and they will eat anything that they can find or that is presented to them. If you actively feed a squirrel, it will eat whatever you give to them.

However, this doesn’t mean that they should eat everything that they can find. Just as it is important to know what kinds of foods squirrels shouldn’t eat so you can ensure that you aren’t harming them as well as helping to boost their quality of life and give them a healthy and balanced diet.

Here are the main categories of food that can damage their digestive system:

Junk food

The first category is probably the most unsurprising of them all. Junk food is made from processed foods that are filled with different artificial ingredients and lots of salt. Just as junk food is bad for humans, it is even worse for squirrels.

Squirrels cannot have a lot of salt in their diet so this is potentially the most dangerous of the categories.

A good rule of thumb is that anything that doesn’t grow naturally in the wild shouldn’t be fed to a squirrel. It’s very likely that squirrels would eat junk food if they found it but that doesn’t mean that they should. 

Starchy food

The second category on our list is starchy foods. This includes foods such as bread, breakfast cereals and potatoes. Although they may have some nutritional value for humans, they don’t have any nutrients for squirrels and can even cause a lot of damage to the digestive system. 

Sugary food

The final category to watch out for are sugary foods. Like junk food, these foods are made from processed and artificial ingredients. Squirrels are known for their sweet tooth and love to get their paws on plenty of sugary snacks.

However, unbeknownst to them, it is extremely bad for them. This includes foods such as candy, cookies and sodas among many other foods. We have mentioned it previously but don’t feed squirrels food that isn’t grown naturally in the wild. 

Ultimate feeding guide

We’ve explored what kinds of foods that squirrels should and shouldn’t eat but for those who like to have a generalized list that makes it easier to track what is best to feed them, we’ve come up with this ultimate feeding guide so you’ll be able to give them a higher quality of life. Here are the essential, great, okay and bad foods to feed squirrels:

Essential

Water is needed daily in order for squirrels to survive

Great foods

  • Beechnut
  • Broccoli
  • Butternut
  • Carrots
  • Grapes
  • Hickory nuts
  • Mangoes
  • Nectarines 
  • Peas
  • Squash
  • Walnuts
  • Watermelon
  • Yellow squash
  • Zucchini

Okay foods

  • Cheese
  • Corn
  • Pistachio
  • Pumpkin
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Unsalted roasted peanuts

Bad foods

  • Bread 
  • Cat food
  • Dog food
  • Other starchy foods
  • Pasta
  • Raw peanuts

Feeding squirrels should always be done in moderation to prevent them from being too dependent on you. It is important that they are always capable of foraging for their own food in case you suddenly decide to stop.

Relying on humans can also cause huge problems with predators that wish them harm and hunters as their senses won’t be as heightened. 

Favorite foods

Knowing what foods are great for squirrels will mean that they have a better chance of living longer but squirrels do have favorite foods that they will never turn down. The most common food associated with squirrels are nuts and with good reason.

Squirrels absolutely love all kinds of nuts as well as seeds, fruits and vegetables among much more. The foods that are best for their diet tend to also be their favorite foods meaning that they will be getting a healthy diet and living happier lives.

Here, we’ve gathered what the most popular and common species of squirrels love to eat so you can cater the foods to the squirrels that live in your area. 

Flying squirrels

The first kind of squirrel to consider is the flying squirrel which is known as the gliding squirrel. They are omnivores meaning that they have an extremely varied diet that consists of fruits, nuts and insects.

Southern flying squirrels are known for eating small birds and their eggs making them carnivores although it is best to feed any flying squirrel with fresh produce rather than any kind of meat.

Flying squirrels can be found in various states including Florida, Minnesota and Texas making them native to the Eastern and Southern parts of the US. They also love to feed on bird food thanks to the mix of seeds and nuts. 

Fox squirrels

One of the larger squirrel species is the fox squirrel which can be as long as 15 inches. Found in the Eastern and Central states of the US, fox squirrels can be found in Colorado, both Dakotas and Texas and love environments that are full of trees.

Building their nests within hollow trees, they love to eat nuts and seeds with a particular affinity for acorns, beech and mulberry seeds. They also eat a lot of fruit in their diet and will forage from the world around them meaning that they have plenty of berries, corn and green shoots as well as insects such as beetles and moths.

A more isolated species of squirrel, they are known for sharing their feeding area but prefer to keep to themselves for the majority of time.

There are a variety of different fox squirrels and depending on the species, they are protected from hunting and forest destruction. One such example is the Big Cypress fox squirrel which can easily be identified by the black marks on their heads. 

Grey squirrels

Some species of squirrel are more common than others and few are more commonly found than the grey squirrel. With a diet that is predominantly nuts, they also love to snack on tree seeds.

They are another species that have a varied diet and love to eat flowers, fruit and seeds and are known to eat human food although this is definitely not advised. If you have a bird feeder, don’t be surprised if you see a grey squirrel stealing some of the food from it. 

Red squirrels

Lastly, the red squirrel rounds up the most common kind of squirrel you will come across. Not as common as grey squirrels, red squirrels have a wide variety of foods that they love. They love to hunt for nuts and seeds that are found in the wild and in the garden with chestnuts and sweeter nuts being among their favorites.

Other examples of nuts and seeds that they will snack on are unsalted and shelled peanuts but it is important to know what kind of peanuts you can feed to a squirrel.

Never feed salted peanuts to squirrels as this will do more damage than good to their digestive system due to the high salt content. If you want to reduce their calcium intake then apples and carrots are fantastic foods to slice up and lay out for them. 

Baby squirrels

You may have been for a walk and noticed that a squirrel has given birth to some babies and wants to provide plenty of food for the family to survive. However, this is not necessary at all.

Squirrels have a very short pregnancy cycle which will last around 39 days depending on the species after breeding a couple of times a year. Baby squirrels are called kits and are blind for around a month when they are born.

The kits will feed on their mother’s milk for seven weeks until they are ready to be weaned off and the diet is then supplemented with nuts and vegetables. 

Foods that squirrels don’t like

One fact that has been reiterated throughout the article is that squirrels will eat the majority of foods. However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t any items of food that they will not eat at all.

If you want to prevent squirrels from stealing your food or using the bird feeder then placing peppers near the food is a certain way to stop them from going near it. Whether it is cayenne peppers, habaneros or jalapeños among many other types of peppers, squirrels view them as a repellent and will look elsewhere for food.

Other sure foods that will keep them away include black pepper and garlic due to the strong scent. If you are wanting a more natural deterrent then there are some plants that squirrels refuse to eat also including alliums, daffodils and geraniums. 

Best foods to feed a squirrel

The best foods to feed to a squirrel are the ones that they would be able to find naturally in the wild. Making sure there is a healthy mix of fruits, nuts, seeds and vegetables will ensure that they have the variety and nutrients needed to provide them with a healthy and balanced diet.

Due to the nature of squirrels, they need plenty of energy that allows them to travel quickly in case they are hunted down by predators and need a quick escape. Therefore, ensuring that they have foods that can be easily digested will mean that they can get away should they need to.

Having a balanced diet that is full of calcium, fats, proteins as well as vitamins and minerals is going to give them the best chance at a prolonged life. 

How often should a squirrel be fed

As previously discussed, feeding squirrels is harmless so long as you are not providing them with the majority of the food to a point where they are becoming dependent on you. It’s important to ensure that you feed them one type of food so they can source other important nutrients elsewhere by themselves.

If a squirrel lives in an environment where one type of food isn’t immediately available, you can fit in and provide them with a supplement that is going to bring balance as well as ensuring that they have plenty of food to gather when they are preparing for hibernation. 

Conclusion

Overall, knowing what kind of foods to feed squirrels will mean that you are aware of how your food is benefitting the squirrels as well as ensuring that they are receiving foods that can help to promote their quality of life without causing them to become too dependent on you.

Whether you decide to choose something seasonal for their diet or a food that is determined by the species of squirrel you are encountering. Setting up a squirrel feeder is one of the best methods as it gives them the freedom to come and go as they please without them feeling too dependent on the food you have to offer.