Why Do Squirrels Eat Bark and What You Can Do About It

why do squirrels eat bark

If you’ve been feeding squirrels in the backyard, there’s a good possibility that you’ve noticed animals chewing the bark off trees. We seem to have a tree that our backyard squirrels love eating. This is why I started doing some research on “why do squirrels eat bark,” so I can take some steps to stop them.

Why Do Squirrels Eat Bark?

Squirrels are known for their habits of chewing on things, which also includes the trees in your backyard. They chew the bark off to use for their nests, and once the bark is removed, the cambium layer of the tree contains sugars and nutrients they love. We’ll also take a look at some other reasons they may be damaging your trees.

The great thing is that most squirrels will only eat the bark of a tree during the winter when other food is short on supply. However, this doesn’t make it right, especially, if they are damaging trees on your property. If you’re having this issue, the best way to control this issue is to provide them with their favorite food, so they leave your trees alone.

If you’ve been noticing trees or branches in your backyard looking like an animal is eating them, you’re not wrong. This is most likely the work of a squirrel. However there are other animals that are known to eat bark and some of them are porcupines, Field mice, Black bears, Beavers, and Mountain beavers.

Do All Squirrels Eat Bark?

After doing some research, I found that the following squirrels love to eat bark:

  • Red
  • Grey
  • Fox
  • Flying

The types of trees that they love to strip will vary from specie to specie. However, it’s not uncommon for them to strip bark or chew branches from the following trees.

  • Sycamore
  • Japanese Maple
  • Elm
  • Ginkos
  • Ash
  • Autumn Olives
  • Atlas Cedar
  • Honey Locus
  • Poplar
  • Pecan (red squirrels love this type)
  • Honey Suckle
  • Red Maple
  • Sugar Maple
  • Russian Olive

They prefer to chew on trees that have thin bark because it’s easier for them to get their teeth under than thicker trees. We all know that squirrels love to eat pretty much anything.

Why Do Squirrels Chew Off Branches?

Believe it or not, it’s not common for squirrels to chew bark or chew off branches. If they are doing this in your yard, there’s likely a reason and I’ve listed some of the common reasons below.

Teeth Maintenance

If a squirrel is eating the bark or chewing away at the branches in your backyard, there’s a good chance that they are trying to keep their teeth shiny and strong. You and I brush and floss our teeth to maintain their health.

They also use trees to keep their teeth razor sharp. They have long front incisors with sharp edges that help them cut grass, eat nuts, seeds, and other foods. This is one of the reasons feeding them peanuts can help with maintaining their teeth health.

NOT all peanuts are good for them, we highly recommend feeding them the Virginia Inshell Peanuts, which you can get here.

Branches and Nesting

Tree squirrels are known to chew off trees and bark as a means for constructing nests or dreys which are constructed above about 30 feet off the ground. A squirrel’s nest consists of twigs, dry leaves, and grass.

They use the dreys to prepare for the winter and when they are having babies. According to some research, pregnant females will gnaw on bark to help cope with pain.

Sodium Intake

The sap under trees is packed with sodium and other nutrients that are good for squirrels. Some squirrels like the Easter gray squirrels love pulling the bark off of branches high on the tree. They usually do this at the beginning of the spring and autumn seasons, when the buds and flowers are beginning to bloom.

If this is a problem in your backyard, you can try setting out tiny salt blocks for them, which can be found at your local pet store or online at Amazon. Place the salt blocks at the foundation of your trees and it may help keep them from damaging your branches.

While a lot of salt is not good for squirrels, they do need some in their diet.

Food Shortages and Tree Bark

Dealing with food shortages and predators can also lead to some squirrels going after bark. When they can’t find their favorite foods are food is just in short supply, they will start chewing tree bark from the branches of the tree in your backyard.

Fox and gray squirrels are the tree squirrels that are notorious for this type of behavior, although red squirrels do it too. They are not ashamed to dine on your growing tree buds that haven’t fully bloomed yet.

Overall Diet

Squirrels are survivalists and will eat pretty much anything, especially if they can’t find food. While they are known to get food from the destruction of bark from branches and trees. They are also foragers and will feed on berries, nuts, acorns, seeds, and vegetables.

However, they have a wide food palette that allows them to consume pretty much anything. They will dine on eggs from birds, mushrooms, bugs, and even human food.

They love eating, in fact, you’d be surprised at how much a squirrel can eat.

In Search of Water

Some studies theorize that a squirrel will strip the bark during the dry months in search of water. If they can remove the bark and get to the sap, it contains water, dissolved sugars, and other nutrients that are good for their diet.

Do Squirrels Damage Trees?

While it’s true that some squirrels will eat the bark or chew off the branches. The truth is that it won’t really damage your tree unless they remove a lot of it. The bark of a tree protects their growing cambium layer from the different weather elements, pathogens, and pests.

While it is possible for a tree to survive with some of its bark removed, it will die if they have removed a large portion of it around the circumference of the tree.

How to Keep Squirrels From Eating Tree Bark?

One of the best ways to keep squirrels from eating your trees is to place a metal flashing around the tree’s trunk. Make sure that it is at least 2 feet wide or tall and long enough to wrap around the entire tree.

I’ve also read that it’s good to remove the flashing every once in a while so it doesn’t kill the tree. At least that’s we’ve been doing with our own trees.

Bottom Line

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot that can be done to keep your yard squirrels from eating the bark from your trees. Some people use traps to relocate them to other areas, but the truth is that they’ll probably just come back.

Since we’ve put the flash on the tree and kept our squirrel feeders full, they’ve stopped gnawing on our trees. Make sure you read our in-depth guide to find out what squirrels love to eat.

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References and Further Reading

Home Guides – Will A Squirrel Stripping The Bark Off My Tree Kill The Tree?

Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management – Barkstripping

Trees Charlotte – How a Tree Works

Extension – Wildlife Damage Management – Barkstripping

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