It can be very tempting to leave food out for wild squirrels, but should we feed them, or is it better to leave them to forage food for themselves? Squirrels are especially fond of free food, attracting many of them into your garden, but putting out a buffet for your furry friends may cause more trouble than expected.
Most wildlife experts agree that you should not feed wild squirrels. Feeding them the wrong food can negatively affect their diet, causing malnutrition, etc. In addition, it can cause health and hygiene concerns, human-animal conflicts, and negative ecological implications.
There are several things to consider before feeding wild squirrels. We’ll discuss them more in-depth below so you can make an informed decision.
Can You Feed Wild Squirrels?
Most states do not have any laws against feeding wild squirrels, but it is not encouraged, and wildlife experts would recommend against it for many reasons.
While feeding wild squirrels could lead to many problems for animals and humans alike, occasionally leaving food out for them over an especially harsh winter or during a drought shouldn’t do any harm.
It is wise, however, to know the potential risks before setting up a squirrel feeding station.
Impact on Squirrel Behavior
Dependency On Humans
When you feed wild squirrels, they can become dependent on you, negatively impacting their natural foraging habits and survival skills. As a result, they won’t try to find food on their own and become entirely dependent on humans.
This dependency can alter their behavior, making them less fearful of humans. Unfortunately, this isn’t good. Wild animals need to be somewhat fearful of humans; it’s how they survive in the wild.
Feeding the rodents can lead to overpopulation since they’ll have access to a consistent food supply. When forced to forage for their food, their numbers are controlled because not all have access to food.
An overpopulation of squirrels will result in an abundance of squirrels that raid bird feeders, homes, gardens, etc.
Effects On A Squirrel Diet
Squirrels are common in urban spaces, so it can be easy to forget that they are wild animals. But, unfortunately, no matter how good your intentions are, when we interfere with wild animals, things sometimes go differently than we planned.
So here are some reasons why you should not feed the squirrels that come into your garden.
Unhealthy Food Options
Like all wild animals, squirrels have a specialized diet that keeps them healthy. Human foods high in salt, sugar, and other additives can be harmful.
Foods such as; bread, cookies, potato chips, and other processed foods are bad for us and can lead to obesity and other health issues.
Squirrels, like all mammals, require a balanced diet to ensure they get the nutrients their bodies need. When foraging in the wild, they get their nutrients from their natural diet of nuts, seeds, and fruits.
When humans intervene and feed them, the squirrels may not receive the correct balance of nutrients their bodies need. This can lead to diseases and other health issues.
Health and Hygiene Concerns
Squirrels are wild animals that can transmit Lyme disease, leptospirosis, Tularemia, and other squirrel diseases. When you feed wild squirrels, you run the risk of getting scratched or bitten or coming into contact with squirrel droppings.
Feeding them at your home will likely cause animal-human conflicts. If you forget to put food out of don’t refill the feeder, you can be sure they’ll start getting closer to your house looking for more food.
They’ll start raiding your bird feeders, stealing cat and dog food, eat from your garden, and try getting into your attic. Once they know your home is a food supply, they’ll keep coming back for more until you have to call a professional or use a live trap to get rid of them.
Invasive Plant Spread
A squirrel’s caching behavior is responsible for new growth. For example, they are constantly foraging for food and burying it in a cache. They have good memories but don’t always remember where all their nuts and seeds are buried.
This dispersal of seeds is an essential part of the ecosystem. However, when they become dependent on humans for food, they don’t scatter their seeds, which can hurt new growth.
What Can You Feed To Squirrels?
Squirrels famously love nuts! You can put any nut out for them as long as it is raw, unsalted, and unsweetened. They will enjoy fruit and vegetables from your kitchen scraps. Spinach, apples, carrots, and the like will be suitable.
When putting food out for wild birds and squirrels, you must take good care of the feeding station. Clean it out once a week and remove any uneaten food before it goes bad.
How To Attract Squirrels To Your Garden Without Food
Most people put food out for squirrels to encourage the animals into their gardens so they can watch them and enjoy their antics.
While food is the most efficient attractant, it could cause problems for both you and the squirrels in the long run. Luckily, there are other low-risk ways to attract wild squirrels to your property.
You can modify your garden and its plants to mirror their natural habitat. They will be more likely to visit if they find it safe and inviting. Tools like squirrel boxes and squirrel calls will also help attract them without using food.
Make Your Garden Squirrel-Friendly
The best way to naturally attract squirrels to your garden is to plant trees they rely on for food and shelter. Oak, hazel, and beech trees are among their favorites.
Squirrels also love shrubs and groundcovers, so keep a nice, dense underbrush to provide them with shelter and protection while they scamper about looking for food.
Another good tip is to stop removing any dead and dying branches or trees.
Dead trees usually become hollow, which makes them the ideal location for a comfy squirrel nest. However, trimming or removing branches and trees could disturb active nests and chase any resident squirrels away.
If you have pets that like to chase wildlife, try keeping them indoors at certain times of the day.
Squirrels prefer to forage in the early hours of the morning. If you consistently remove your pets at a particular time, the squirrels will eventually learn when they can enter your property without fear. Even better, fence off the areas the squirrels frequent.
Install Some Squirrel Nest Boxes
If you don’t have space for big, squirrel-attracting trees, you can put up some nest boxes for your local squirrels instead. These are just simple rectangular boxes that squirrels will use to nest and hide their food. But, of course, birdhouses will also work well.
Place the nest boxes high off the ground and in a sheltered spot to keep them safe from the elements.
Provide Water For Squirrels
Squirrels need water just as much as food, so set up some rehydration stations for them in your garden. Water stations will be an excellent attraction for the local birds too. Just refresh the water regularly to avoid any nasty algae buildup.
Use a Squirrel Call
A squirrel call is a tool that makes a sound like a squirrel chattering. In the wild, squirrels will make this sound to let their neighbors know they’re around. When they hear it, they should perk up and leave their hiding places to check out who is making all the noise.
Using a squirrel call is a fun way to interact with the wild squirrels in your area that doesn’t require much effort or risk. As a bonus, it can make a fun party trick!
The consensus amongst wildlife experts is that people should not leave food out for wild squirrels because it could cause a variety of issues for them and for the well-intentioned humans that feed them.
Overpopulation, dependency, and property damage could all come from over-feeding squirrels. Putting out food can even endanger their lives.
Even though it is not advisable to feed your local squirrels, you can find other ways to encourage them into your property. For example, planting trees that provide them with food and shelter, putting out water for them, installing nest boxes, and using a squirrel call are great ways to attract squirrels without using food.
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