With over 200 species of squirrels, including grey tree squirrels, red tree squirrels, ground squirrels, fox squirrels, flying squirrels, striped squirrels, and black squirrels. You might have asked yourself what do squirrels eat, especially, if you love feeding the wildlife from the comfort of your home. Well, I’ve gone out to find the answers for you.
Truth be told, squirrels have a healthy appetite for many native flowers, veggies, fungi, plants, flowers, and some insects that can be found in their natural habitat.
They are not picky eaters and will eat pretty much anything they can get their paws on. The other day, the grabbed some sugary snacks that we left on our front porch by our kids. If you’re looking to feed squirrels in your backyard, then you’ll want to check out squirrel feeder article.
We’ll take a closer look at some of their favorite foods, foods you should avoid feeding them as well as other important things you need to know about their diet.
Are Squirrels Carnivore or Herbivore
Squirrels are members of the Sciuridae family, which are considered rodents. They are primarily herbivores and will eat a variety of plants, nuts, and seeds. (sesame seeds, safflower seeds, poppy seeds, and pumpkin seeds)
Their diet shifts depending on the time of year. The majority of ground squirrels will go into hibernation each winter and when they come out of their drey, they will eat things like herbs, grasses, veggies, flowers, and pretty much anything else they can find.
They are NOT picky eaters and they consume pretty much anything.
What Do Squirrels Eat In The Wild?
Some people believe that you should never feed wild animals because they can become a nuisance, or it is illegal. However, this hasn’t stopped people from feeding wild animals.
Even if you don’t feed them, there’s a good chance that a squirrel will venture onto your property foraging for scraps, waste or other items they can take back to their nest.
However, if food is abundant where they live, there’s a good chance that you may not see them on your property. You also may be able to prevent them from causing damage by feeding them the best squirrel food at their feeders.
They tend to eat wherever they can access their chow without a lot of effort.
Fruits and Veggies
If you have a vegetable garden, it won’t be hard to find their bushy-tailed critters happily eating your veggies. They love eating different types of fruits and vegetable that consist of watermelons, bananas, plums, kiwi’s, apples, mangoes, nectarines, grapes, sweet potatoes, peaches, kale, broccoli, peas, carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, and pease.
Both fruits and vegetables an excellent source of nutrition for these critters.
Berries that grow in the wild make a great snack for squirrels. The unprocessed sugar provides them with an energy boost, that keeps them going. Some of the berries that are easy to find in the wild include cherries, mulberries, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries.
If they can’t find them in the wild, they’ll be happy to raid your garden.
In Your Garden
So many people complain about squirrels eating out of their gardens. These shy guys will jump at the chance to eat dried corn on the cob, tomatoes, pumpkins, freshly planted seedbeds, beans, squash, cucumbers, eggplants, sunflowers, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, celery, asparagus, and other root vegetables.
They’ll only eat your red tomatoes and will bypass the green ripe ones.
Depending On The Season
These creatures are true survivalists and can conform their diets according to what nature provides them, and where they live.
In the winter, most squirrels, except the grey squirrels will be burrowed in their dens sleeping 12 or more hours per day. When they get hungry, they will snack on the nuts they buried during the warm months. Squirrels are known to stash enough meals to last them when supplies are scarce.
They have been known to stash away enough foodstuff to last up to 3 years. Yup, squirrels love to eat and can eat a lot.
Grey squirrels are also known to eat tree bark in the winter.
Grey squirrels feed predominantly on nuts as well as tree seeds of coniferous and deciduous species. However, their diets also consist of fruits, fungi, buds, and flowers.
The grey squirrels will mostly eat fungi in the Summer months. Flying squirrels and especially the northern flying squirrel eats fungus and lichen on a regular basis. They prefer acorn truffles, which are underground fungi that look and smell like acorns.
Unlike humans, squirrels can eat pretty much any type of mushroom, without having to worry about the deadly amanita-toxins that cause mushroom poisoning.
In the spring, they eat flowers, seeds and pretty much anything they can get their little paws on. Most of them are usually just coming out of their nests during the hibernation period and will go foraging for a fresh supply of food.
This is a great time to hit up bird feeders in people’s back yards. In fact, I just saw the first grey squirrel in my back yard the other morning look for bird seed on the ground. It’s important to know that squirrels will eat birds and bird eggs.
They can’t get on my bird feeder because I’ve invested in a squirrel proof bird feeder.
In September, it’s diet changes to nuts and acorns, when they are plentiful. They will enthusiastically eat and collect other nuts which include pistachios, cashews, hickory nuts, macadamia nuts, walnuts, chestnuts, pine nuts out of pine cones, almonds, magnolia cones, pecans, hazelnuts, and beechnuts.
Related: Can Squirrels Eat Walnuts?
They are pretty happy to consume nuts with or without the shell. Extracting the nut from the shell provides a squirrel exercise and helps them sharpen their teeth.
However, grey squirrels are survivors and can’t go without food for very long periods. If they can’t find food, they will raid a bird’s nest for eggs, steal from bird feeders and dig up plants.
They will then bury extra goodies below the surface of the soil, which they will find by smell.
Foods to Never Feed Squirrels
If you love squirrels there’s a good chance you’ve fed them food either by hand or just laid it out so they can find it. We all love seeing how close they’ll get for food. After all, they love eating and as you can see, there isn’t a lot that they won’t eat.
However, there are some foods that you should never feed them because they don’t provide any nutritional value and may even cause harm to their digestive system.
Starchy foods consist of breakfast cereals, oats, potatoes (french fries), rice, pasta, bread, and other grains like rye and barley. These foods do not contain any nutritional value and can cause damage to their digestive system.
Squirrels love sugary snacks and would steal candy from a baby if they could. However, these foods should be excluded from their diet and some of the items that make this list are candy, cookies, chocolates, soda, fruit juices, sweetened yogurt, banana chips, or any other sugary snack.
Just because these foods are not good for them, doesn’t mean that they won’t steal it. Squirrels are notorious for stealing food.
Watch this video as a squirrel goes into a store and steals a chocolate bar right from the counter of candies.
We love junk food and I have no doubt that squirrels would eat it too. Avoid feeding them pretzels, crackers, french fries, pizza, hamburgers or any other type of food that is salted. Basically, if they can’t find it in the wild and we consume it, you shouldn’t feed it to squirrels.
The list is extensive as to what they will consume and there isn’t much that they won’t eat. Heck the other day, a grey squirrel ate cheese that was intended for my cat. If you have a lot of brave squirrels coming up on your deck, you need to be careful of what you leave in their path.
Squirrel Feeding Guide
I’ve broken it down into a simple table that you can glance at to see if it is something that you can feed to the squirrels in your back yard. If you have a pet squirrel, then make sure that you’re feeding them the right foods.
|Pumpkin and pumpkin seeds||Okay|
|Bread and other starchy foods||Bad|
|Peanuts, raw||Bad (never feed squirrels raw peanuts)|
|Roasted Peanuts||Okay (as long as they are unsalted)|
|Water||These small mammals require water daily to survive.|
When feeding squirrels, it’s important to do so in moderation. You don’t want them to become too dependent on humans and stop foraging for their own food.
Wild animals need to know how to find their own food for survival. When they become attached to humans, they can get in trouble with hunters and other predators that want to hurt them.
Some of Their Favorite Foods to Consume
As I mentioned these creatures have expanded their palates from what they can find in the wild. But just like you and I have some favorite foods we would NEVER turn down.
Since these bushy-tailed guys love to eat so much, they will never run away from the chance to eat nuts, seeds, bark, vegetables, grains, fungi, seeds, fruit, roots, and bulbs.
What Do Grey Squirrels Eat?
These are the most common types of squirrels in people’s backyards. They feed predominantly on nuts, as well as tree seeds of both coniferous and deciduous species. However, their diet also consists of fruit, buds, fungi, flowers, bird seed and the love of some human foods.
Just like all other types of squirrels, they will pretty much eat anything they can get their little paws on. The grey squirrels are commonly referred to as tree squirrels and they will eat from feeders.
What Do Flying Squirrels Eat?
Flying squirrels also referred to as “gliding squirrels” are omnivores and they eat a variety of food including insects, seeds, nuts, fungi, and fruits. The Southern flying squirrels are considered carnivores because they are known to supplement their diet with carrion, small birds, and eggs.
They are usually found in the Eastern parts of the United States, from the west from Minnesota to Texas and Maine south to Florida.
Just like the grey squirrel they have a well-rounded diet and will eat pretty much anything. They can also be enticed to eat at feeders if your bird food contains a mix of sunflower seeds, peanuts.
They are also known to eat from suet feeders. Learn more about these amazing creatures on the National Wildlife Federation website.
What Do Red Squirrels Eat?
These are not as common as the grey squirrels, but if you’re lucky enough to have red squirrels feeding your garden, then here are the types of foods that they love.
They love a variety of different foods. They will pillage for seeds and nuts that are naturally found in gardens. Chestnuts and sweet nuts are some of their favorites.
They also like eating unsalted peanuts, shelled peanuts and other types, but make sure you understand which types of peanuts to give squirrels. Carrots and apples are great supplements to add to your feeder to prevent calcium deficiency.
Don’t forget to place a source of water by your squirrel if there is not a natural source of water nearby.
Unlike the grey squirrels, the red ones do not like maize (sweet corn). Read more about the Red Squirrel on the Nature Works website.
What Do Fox Squirrels Eat?
The Eastern Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) is known as Bryant’s Fox Squirrel is one of the largest tree squirrels and it can grow to be 10 – 15 inches in length. It can be found in the Eastern and Central parts of the United States. It is mostly found west to the Dakotas, Colorado, and Texas.
They are usually found in open piney areas that have a lot of trees. They’ll build their nests in hollow trees or build leaf nest in the crotch of a tree.
Their diet consists mostly of hickory, beech, acorns, mulberry and Hawthorne seeds. They also eat fruits, berries, corn, moths, beetles, and green shoots.
They are solitary animals, but they will share their feeding area with other squirrels. You can see that they have a distinct black marking on their head.
The Big Cypress fox squirrel (Sciurus niger avicennia) which is a subspecies of the fox squirrels. They are federally protected because they are endangered due to the destruction of forests and overhunting. You can read more about the fox squirrel on this website.
What Do Baby Squirrels Eat?
These animals usually breed once or twice a year and the pregnancy cycle lasts about 39 days. Once the babies are born, they are blind for several weeks. The mothers will feed their babies milk for about a total of seven weeks.
After the seven weeks, she will supplement the milk with vegetables and nuts, until she can wean them completely off the milk.
Is There Anything They Don’t Like?
While there isn’t a lot that they don’t eat, but there are a few items that repel them. Many people use some of these items to keep them away from their gardens, bird feeders, and attics. They despise hot peppers, jalapeños, cayenne peppers, habaneros, capsicum, anaheim peppers or any other types of hot peppers you can grow in the garden.
They will just pass over these plants in your garden. In fact, hot pepper sprays and Tobasco sauce is commonly used to deter squirrels from eating people’s fruits, vegetables, and other plants.
Garlic and black pepper smells tend to keep away the hungry brazen squirrels. Some homeowners will even get a large dog or cat to help them keep away these critters.
Some homeowners have even secured their gardens and bird feeders with plants that squirrels hate which include, daffodils, hyacinth, geraniums, Lilly-of-the-valley, alliums, fritillaries, and Galanthus. Most squirrels will usually avoid these types of plants.
Best Foods for Squirrels
The best food for squirrels is the type that contains a variety of fruits, veggies, and seeds. You can easily find these at your local pet store or online at Amazon for your squirrel feeders.
Just because they love eating french fries, hamburgers, and other junk, doesn’t mean they should. If you’re going to be feeding them, then provide them with the type of food that provides them with the nutritional substances they need.
These guys eat a lot and burn off a lot of energy. That’s why it’s important for their diet to contain a balanced diet containing fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals as well as calcium.
How Often Should I Feed Them?
There’s nothing wrong with regular feedings and having a squirrel feeder in your yard. However, you want to make sure that you’re not feeding them too much, where it discourages them from foraging for natural food.
Feeding them food is a great way to provide a supplementary food supply, especially, when their food sources are not in abundance. It’s best to feed them more regularly in the summer months when natural food is in short supply.
They are among some of the safest wild animals to feed. They’re smart, quick, and non-aggressive, although they will bite if they feel threatened. The best way to feed them is to set up a squirrel feeder or squirrel house in your yard.
If you’ve made plans to feed squirrels in your yard, let us know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your stories about feeding squirrels.
Other Squirrel Facts You Maybe Be Interested In:
References and Further Reading
Squirrel Nutrition – What to Feed Squirrels
Alina Bradford – Live Science – Squirrels: Diet, Habits & Other Facts
Doorstep Zoo – The Best Food to Feed Squirrels