Hickory nuts are one of the squirrel’s favorite natural foods. This explains why sometimes they will try to eat them before their time, leaving lots of nibbled nuts wherever there’s a hickory tree. If they give them enough time, the bitter green husk will harden and split.
When the fruit is mature, squirrels will gnaw through the outer husk of the nut to sink their teeth into the hard inner shell and get the ultimate prize: the sweet, nutritious nutmeat, which they crave. They’ll travel far and wide to eat mature hickory nuts. That answers the question,’Can squirrels eat hickory nuts?’
Wildlife lovers will want to know which nuts are safe for their backyard critters and which ones to avoid. Be sure to check out some of the best nuts for squirrels that they love and are safe to eat.
What Are Hickory Nuts?
Hickory nuts are the fruits of the hickory tree. There are around 18 species of this nut-producing tree that’s made of the genus Carya of the walnut family. All species in this family have similar characteristics, like a compound leaf structure, a straight trunk, and an average height of 100 feet.
Hickories take 10 to 15 years to start producing nuts. These nuts have a hard-shell, surrounded by a woody husk which varies among species. The difference lies in how easily it splits and whether the sutures are partly or fully winged.
Are Hickory Nuts Safe for Squirrels?
Yes, hickory nuts are safe for squirrels. They’ve been eating them for many decades without any reports of them causing health problems. Squirrels can’t digest cellulose, so they rely on fats, protein, and carbohydrates for nutrition.
Hickory nuts are protein and fat dense, giving them the nutrition they need. Squirrels have sharp incisors that they use to carry the hickory nuts as well as split and breakthrough their tough exterior. It’s almost as if nuts were made for squirrels.
What Types of Hickory Nuts Can Squirrels Eat?
Squirrels can eat most types of hickory nuts. The most common ones are shagbark and pignut hickory nuts. The bitternut hickory nuts are the bitterest, but squirrels will still eat them if they have no other options. Here are other types they can eat:
Southern Shagbark Hickory
Also known as Carya Carolinae-Septentrionalis, the Southern Shagbark Hickory tree is a popular hickory species that can grow up to 120 feet tall. The nuts from this tree are dark brown with a thick husk (3 to 9 mm) that covers a nutshell inside. When ripe, the husk splits freely up to the base. The nut is typically 2 to 4 cm wide, with a light brown and sweet kernel.
Pignut hickory nuts are an essential part of squirrels’ diet. They grow from a large tree that can reach 135 feet. Sometimes this tree is called sweet pignut, swamp hickory, smoothbark hickory, or broom hickory. The Pignut hickory nut is small, pear-shaped, and sweet. It is 1 ¼ inch long with a thick wall. It’s enclosed in a thin husk that only splits half-way open. When fallen nuts are split open, they look like the snout of a pig.
The botanical name for bitternut hickory is Carya Cordyformis. This tall and slender tree grows up to 60 to 80 feet tall. The nuts start ripening around September–October. They may be solitary or paired nuts with a nearly globe-shape. The nut has a thin yellow-green husk with yellow scales. It is 2 to 4 cm long with a sharp tip and is four-winged from the tip to where it splits. The kernel is reddish-brown and bitter. Squirrels will only eat this nut when left with no other choice.
The Mockernut hickory (Carya Tomentosa) fruit is smaller than other hickory nut species (1.5-2 inches), with a thick dark-brown husk, and round or pear shape. These nuts can occur singly or in pairs. They are green at first, then turn brown as they ripen. On maturity, the sides of the nut split apart, leading to four pieces of thick husk around the seed. The nut has a tough shell with a small edible kernel.
Sandnut hickory or Carya pallida trees are medium size and grow up to 80 feet tall. They produce small nuts, measuring as tiny as half an inch. These sweet and delicious nuts are almost round and emerge from a four-part husk on maturity. Its nutshells are bony and thick.
Also known as the Carya ovalis or sweet pignut, this medium-sized tree is capable of growing up to 100 feet tall. The nut is enclosed in a thin, fleshy, 4-ridged green husk until maturity when the husk changes to dark brown and very brittle. The seams split from the base upwards and sometimes may not separate from the ripe nut. The nut is smooth and beige with 4 shallow ridges. The kernel is very oily with varying flavors from bitter to mildly sweet.
Can Squirrels Eat Hickory Nut Tree Leaves?
Squirrels are real foodies and like to eat a lot. They are omnivores, so they eat plants, bugs, fruit, bird eggs, and sometimes, leaves. Squirrels generally collect leaves to build nests for their young ones. When young squirrels start experimenting with food, they will eat almost anything, including hickory nut leaves. However, older squirrels have no interest in the leaves when the tree is full of tasty hickory nuts.
How to Feed Squirrels Hickory Nuts?
When feeding tree squirrels, use squirrel feeders. You can make these using empty soda bottles. Punch several ¼ holes at the bottom of the feeder for drainage. Create slightly larger holes than your largest nut, in the sides, and some more near the top. Thread a firm wire through the holes at the top to hang the feeder.
You can mix the hickory nuts with some seeds, like sunflower, fill the feeder, and secure the lid. Hang the feeder onto a branch using the cord. Ensure that the branch is 10 feet high and strong enough to support the weight of squirrels.
For ground squirrels, create a feeding station in a suitable location. Fill some bowls with hickory nuts and place them on the ground. Preferably a safe distance from any vegetation to avoid predators and not too far from it either so that they can run back into hiding if they don’t feel safe.
It’s not advisable to feed squirrels with your hand because it can reduce the healthy fear they have for humans.
Do not let them in your house, unless you’re ready for visitors who will overstay their welcome. Also, squirrels are destructive and can damage your property, furniture, and other property.
Can Baby Squirrels Eat Hickory Nuts?
Baby squirrels can only feed on their mother’s milk until they are between 6 and 7 weeks old when they start nibbling on some solid food. At this point, they can start eating fruits, vegetables, and nuts out of their shell.
So, yes. Baby squirrels can eat hickory nuts, but they must be unshelled. At this stage, their parents help them remove the hard shells until they are old enough to do it themselves.
The sweetness of most chickory nuts makes the trouble of cracking them open worth it to the squirrels. Not only are they tasty, but they’re also nutritious. If you’re considering feeding these furry friends, remember not to use your hands, or let them in your house. Also do not feed them salted peanuts or any other food if you’re not sure. It could be harmful to them.