Squirrels learn from a young age in the wild to be on high alert for predators. They don’t move in a herd and do things independently or with their young. Generally, they keep a distance from almost everything and, to some extent, each other.
Why Are Squirrels Scared of Humans? Squirrels see humans as a potential threat, which helps them survive in the wild. Being afraid of humans is not such a bad thing as it keeps them safe from predators.
If you rescue and raise a baby squirrel, it won’t fear you because you hold it all the time. But when you let it go back into the wild, it will soon learn to keep a distance from you. Squirrels fearing humans is just their way of protecting themselves.
We’ll take a closer look at why squirrels fear humans.
Why Do Squirrels Run Away From Humans?
Like most wild animals, squirrels will exhibit a fear response to humans by running away. Squirrels run away from humans when they come close because they have grown to see them as a threat and running is their natural defense. Thanks to their long, muscular, double-jointed back legs, they can run faster than the average human being 10 mph.
Squirrel Behavior With Humans
Sometimes baby squirrels will get abandoned or orphaned. In this case, human intervention can save the baby squirrel’s life through proper care and feeding before letting it back into the wild. You may also find an older squirrel looking sick or injured and needs care.
In both cases, you can take care of the squirrel with permission and guidance from the organization in your area in charge of wildlife rehabilitation. A rescued baby squirrel has specific needs, so you must make sure you care for it properly.
It will get accustomed to humans showing them affection, and it also becomes dependent on you for food like it would its mother. Naturally, as they get older, their teeth and claws grow sharp and long, and sometimes they’ll unintentionally harm humans and destroy furniture.
Fear of humans is a learned behavior for squirrels. It’s not unusual to see young squirrels approach humans, especially if separated from its family. It may come near human activity because of hunger, desperation, or fear, instinctively looking for food, warmth, and shelter.
If you’ve noticed squirrels in your backyard and want to watch or feed them, don’t be surprised if they run away at first. Sometimes when you get near them, they will freeze and stare at you to see how close you’ll come. They run away as soon as they sense danger.
Any quick or loud movement might scare them, so sit still and wait as you watch. Eventually, they’ll learn to trust you and will come out from hiding.
Most squirrels won’t trust you if you put their food in an open space, so put some food for them in a corner of the yard. They’ll realize that you aren’t a threat and will keep coming.
You can also try to feed them from your hand because, at this point, they are starting to trust you. Most squirrels will respond quickly if you make clucking or kissing sounds. Another way to feed them is by shaking a bag of nuts, then stretch out your hand.
Most of the time, squirrels aren’t dangerous, but let’s face it, they are wild animals and can sometimes come at humans aggressively. If you go at them noisily, they will not understand your intentions. Therefore, they can react by attacking, as some joggers have confessed.
The downside to feeding them is that they get so used to it, and when you become inconsistent, or there’s no food to offer, they may attack because of hunger. Other times, squirrels will want to protect their young, and if you come close to their nest, they won’t hesitate to become aggressive.
In some cases, rabies can cause aggression in squirrels. The virus will reprogram its behavior, making it fearless and aggressive towards humans.
Some squirrel species are known to become a bother to humans by invading their territory when building a nest and caring for their young, especially during winter. You’ll often find them in attics, sheds, or other openings. They also tend to destroy their property by digging holes into houses and lawns.
Why They View Us As Predators
Along with owls, eagles, foxes, snakes, and coyotes, squirrels view humans as major predators. Humans are constantly trying to eliminate squirrels in many ways, including bait, traps, hunting, and poisoning. They also use domesticated animals like dogs and cats to catch them.
We’re Bigger Than Them
Squirrels are small mammals with an average weight of only 1.5 pounds and a height of 15 -20 inches. This means they stand a minimal chance for survival in the wild and are easy prey for most animals.
Humans look even more intimidating because we are much taller and bigger than these other predators. Imagine being 20 inches tall and looking at a 5ft or 6ft human giant approaching. Naturally, our size scares them. Thus, they’ll view us as predators.
Some People Hunt and Eat Them
Squirrel hunting is not an activity that stopped with ancient humans in Sri Lanka thousands of years ago. In this day and age, humans still hunt squirrels for pleasure and food.
Can you imagine eating a squirrel? As disgusting as that sounds, it happens. Squirrel cookbooks on the market are proof of that.
Squirrels may have quick instincts and can easily camouflage themselves between oaks and hickories because of their fur coat colors. However, hunters have studied them repeatedly and know precisely how to catch them, even if it means sitting quietly in the woods for hours. This makes humans a threat.
People Kill Them With Bait and Traps
You might see them as cute little furries, but other humans see pesky pests instead. This is because they eat their crops, dig holes in their walls, and make nests in their attics. Therefore, they set out to place traps with bait, mostly peanuts and peanut butter, to catch and kill them.
Rather than using the option of live trapping and then setting them free in a different location, they set up spring traps to finish them off. These lethal traps have a mechanism that triggers a spring and snaps down onto the squirrel, killing it instantly.
It’s Their Defense Mechanism
Squirrels can use several defense mechanisms to ward off various threats. Seeing humans as predators is a natural defense mechanism partly because they are wild animals whose instincts drive them to be cautious and to survive.
Why Are Squirrels On College Campuses Less Scared of Humans?
In several colleges, students jogging around campus or walking to class will see a couple of squirrels around because there are usually many trees in the area. Squirrels on college campuses are less scared of humans because they see them walking across campus all the time, generally minding their own business. Also, they get accustomed to the constant traffic, unlike in isolated woody areas.
College students sometimes eat outside the building and like offering food to the squirrels. The squirrels won’t turn them down because they love food. Whether it’s pizza, crackers, fruits, chips, or nuts, the squirrels will come and get their share. There’s little chance that humans will hunt squirrels on campus, and with time, they’ll let their guard down.
This relationship assures the squirrels that these humans are not a threat. They become accustomed to this as everyday life and keep coming back. This is especially true for the Eastern Grey squirrels. You’ll find that squirrels in the heavily populated areas of college campuses are more likely to get closer to people.
Squirrels have every reason to fear humans. We are their biggest predator. They do this to protect themselves from harm. More than any other animal in the wild, human activities leave squirrels most threatened and vulnerable.
Tree cutting leaves them homeless; as a result, some end up dead, especially the baby squirrels. Each year, many squirrels are killed on the road by moving vehicles, sometimes even intentionally. No wonder squirrels are scared of humans.