While squirrels nibbling a nut is a common sight, that’s not all these rodents eat. In fact, contrary to popular belief, squirrels have a very versatile diet that includes much more than just nuts, greens, and seeds.
The fascinating thing about squirrels’ dietary habits is that they aren’t particularly picky eaters, ensuring their survival in various landscapes and weather conditions.
Interestingly, squirrels change their dietary preferences in winter to readily available food, like seeds. Since they eat from many food groups, it is essential to feed them a varied diet for healthy growth.
Read on as we discuss different kinds of foods eaten by various squirrel types and how they change their diet in winter.
What Do Squirrels Like To Eat?
Squirrels are opportunistic eaters.
This simply means that even though they are more fond of a herbivorous diet that includes nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and plant parts when the need arises, hungry squirrels will also eat various insect species, bird eggs, baby birds, and other small vertebrates.
Here is a list of various foods included in a healthy squirrel diet.
Nuts and Seeds
Squirrels love nuts. It is one of their favorite foods to forage and store when their activity is lowered in winter. Most squirrels enjoy a variety of nuts, depending on their natural habitat. Pine nuts from pine cones, hickory nuts, pecans, almonds, chestnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and acorn are only some of the nuts squirrels love to eat.
If you have nut trees planted in your backyard, be sure of visits from these furry rodents. In fact, if you want to attract tree squirrels (and other squirrel species) to your property (beware as they can cause quite a lot of damage), planting nut trees is your best bet.
Squirrels eat nuts, not only because they love them but also because they are an excellent source of fat and proteins. Moreover, it helps keep filing their front teeth that never stop growing. And helps do their activity like jumping, defending like sctraches and escaping. Another staple of a squirrel’s diet is seeds. Squirrels eat seeds of various kinds, especially in winter, when natural vegetation and plants are hard to find.
Do Squirrels Eat From Bird Feeders?
Sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and different kinds of birdseed in backyard bird feeders are often easy food sources for them. In case you want to prevent squirrels from accessing birdseed, you can invest in a squirrel guard for your bird feeders.
Squirrels like to eat fungi. In fact, fungi are a crucial part of the flying squirrel diet. What flying squirrels get from fungi in terms of nutrition, they return it by spreading the spores through the forest floor. Various squirrel types prefer woodland habitats, where fungi are present in abundance, providing calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin D.
Fungi are significant for a healthy squirrel’s diet, especially in the wild.
Fruits and Vegetables
Squirrels love to eat fruits and vegetables. In fact, fruit trees in the backyard are attracting squirrels, as fruits are an important part of a squirrel’s natural appetite. However, since fruits tend to be high in sugars, they need to be supplemented with other food groups to provide all essential nutrients to squirrels.
Squirrels tend to consume more fruit in summer since that is when they are readily available. Squirrels eat fruit to gain weight before winter to help them survive the harsh weather. Their claws allow them easy access to various fruiting trees, including apples, plums, grapes, peaches, citrus, bananas, figs, and avocados.
Moreover, you can feed squirrels almost every kind of berry, and they will happily devour it. Their favorites include mulberries, raspberries, elderberries, strawberries, and blueberries.
Not only fruit, but squirrels are also just as fond of various types of vegetables. In fact, their proclivity for green vegetables has often made them a nuisance for home gardeners and farmers. Ground squirrels especially love to rummage through gardens in search of vegetables.
You can feed squirrels numerous salad greens and vegetables like lettuce, kale, celery, corn, carrots, leeks, cauliflower, broccoli, squash, and arugula.
Squirrels do not just eat fruits and vegetables; when given a chance, they will happily eat the whole plant a well. Even though squirrels go for the more tender parts of the plant like soft twigs and barks, young branches, as well as stalks.
They also eat flowers, buds, and flower bulbs. Sometimes, feeding squirrels scrap back the tree bark of various trees in order to expose and feed on the sap underneath.
Insects and Small Animals
Like I said, squirrels are opportunistic eaters. Therefore, even though they prefer eating nuts, seeds, and fruits, they will also eat insects and small vertebrates. They provide necessary proteins, particularly for to meet the nutritional needs of juvenile squirrels.
Insects are readily available and easy to catch. Some insects they eat are grasshoppers, crickets, mealworms, and caterpillars.
Apart from insects, squirrel’s also eat other animals they can prey on. They usually prey on mice, rats, and small birds like young chicks. Sometimes, small snakes that invade a female squirrel’s nest will end up as its dinner, should she succeed in killing it.
However, even though squirrels are omnivores, they resort to carnivorous diet, only when nuts, fruits, and vegetation is not readily available. Since insects and small animals will try to defend themselves, these furry rodents usually only take the risk of attacking them when they are starving just like raccoons.
Bird Eggs And Nestlings
A squirrel’s varied eating habits also include feeding on bird eggs and nestlings. Since flying squirrels can glide from one tree to another, they often feed on nestlings. Robin eggs and blackbird eggs are usually on their list when they eat eggs. Even ground squirrels supplement their diet with eggs and young birds for ground-nesting birds.
In fact, when given a chance (and if desperate enough), squirrels might also raid your chicken coop to feed on eggs there.
Omnivorous squirrels eat carrion, southern flying squirrels, more so than other squirrel species since they are much more carnivorous. The decaying flesh of animals often acts as a rich source of calcium and proteins when other food sources are scarce.
Squirrels also rummage through trashcans for waste and eat what is available (and seems nutritional) in urban areas. While as scavengers, they can play a vital role in recycling food waste, many items in our trashcans with high sugar levels, like those in junk food, can be harmful to a squirrel.
Squirrels make regular appearances in urban structures like parks and personal properties, where people like to feed them. Cereals are often quite popular and well-loved by squirrels, as many grains and seeds are part of various branded cereals that make up for the rodent’s natural diet.
Grape-Nuts, Shredded Wheat, Corn Flakes, and whole-grain cereals can be fed to squirrels. However, feeding squirrels an excess amount of any food with unnatural sugar is not good.
What Do Squirrels Like To Eat?
Squirrels are omnivores. Even though many people think of them as strict herbivores, the claim is only half true. It would be more appropriate to call them opportunistic omnivores.
Squirrels will eat the odd baby birds, eggs, small mice, other rodents, and sometimes small snakes. When starving or when vegetation is scarce, they can and will survive on a more carnivorous diet but naturally have a penchant for herbivorous food.
They love eating nuts, seeds, grains, vegetables, fruits, plant parts, fungi, lichens, flowers, bulbs, buds, and tree sap. However, squirrels also have high interest in human food like popcorn.The only exception would be the Southern Flying Squirrel which is considered the most carnivorous squirrel for its regular supplementation of carrion, small animals, and bird eggs.
What Do Baby Squirrels Eat?
Baby squirrels rely only on their mother’s milk for nutrition until they can open their eyes at around five weeks of age. Even after that, they need squirrel milk until they are completely weaned at about ten weeks, but they start supplementing their diet with solid foods.
In the wild, squirrels will drink their mother’s milk only until the sixth week of their life, when they start to eat solid foods, whereas, in captivity, they need puppy milk replacement formula for the same amount of time.
From the sixth week of their life, baby squirrels eat food that includes fruit, nuts, seeds like pine cones, and plant material. In captivity, you can slowly start introducing chopped rat show, rodent block, sliced apples, shelled nuts, grapes, kale, lettuce, broccoli, and sweet potatoes.
Around week ten, they should also be introduced to mealworms and other insects, as well cuttlebone and calcium blocks. After ten to twelve weeks, the baby squirrels are ready to forage for food on their own.
What Do Flying Squirrels Eat?
Flying squirrels are actually gliders that glide form one tree to another, which differentiates them from the common tree squirrel, despite having the same natural habitat. Different in appearance (especially midflight), flying squirrels’ eating habits are quite similar to its tree and ground-dwelling cousins.
Flying squirrels are omnivores with a liking for herbivorous food. They eat nuts of different varieties, including pine and hickory nuts, as well as walnuts and acorns. These furry gliders also eat various seeds, like sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.
Other foods include fungi, fruits, vegetables, tree sap, flowers, buds, insects, bird eggs, nestlings, small animals, and carrion. However, southern flying squirrels are more carnivorous than their northern counterparts.
When kept as pets, these flying rodents need a supplement to fight calcium and vitamin deficiency.
What Do Ground Squirrels Eat?
Ground squirrels live in underground tunnels that they dig themselves. Given their natural habitat, it is no surprise that they eat vegetables and other small plants. In fact, they are a nuisance for many home gardeners, wreaking havoc in a garden bed and weakening foundations with their burrowing.
Like flying squirrels, ground squirrels are also omnivores. Despite being opportunistic eaters who will feed on insects, small animals, birds, eggs, nestlings, and carrions, they much more prefer feeding on nuts, seeds, small plants, fruits, and vegetables.
Not very common behavior for squirrels, but white-tailed prairie dogs kill young squirrels that compete with them for vegetation. They do not eat squirrels they hunt, but only remove them from the landscapes so they have plenty of vegetation to eat.
What Do Squirrels Eat In The Winter?
Some large ground squirrel species like the groundhogs hibernate during winter, where they completely stop eating food and live off the fat reserves they developed from summer eating. However, the squirrels that do not hibernate and are active usually sped their winter, tapping into their cache of stored nuts which they collected and kept safe while burying food in summer in preparation for winter.
Various vegetables and fruits squirrels enjoy in summer are not available in winter. Therefore, most of their diet includes seeds, nuts, tree bark, fungi, insects, and small animals. But if they get human food, they will also definitely eat it, even chocolate.
However, in winter, if food is scarce, despite changing their dining habits, they use up the fat reserves from their abundant summer eating.
You can help ensure squirrels have enough to eat in colder months by setting up a squirrel feeder in your backyard.
What Do Wild Squirrels Eat?
Squirrels with their bottomless bellies will eat almost all kinds of food available in the wild. From fruits and vegetables to tree bark and sap, from fungi and liches to nuts and seeds, the squirrel will happily munch on various foods subject to their availability. And, all of the above-mentioned foods are readily found in their natural habitats of woodlands and mixed forests.
Should the need arise, squirrels also eat bird eggs, small animals, and insects if they cannot find a vegetarian diet. However, given the number of wild animals that hunt squirrels, they tend to only go for a carnivorous diet when necessary since small animals and insects have defense mechanisms.
Which Nuts Do Squirrels Eat?
Squirrels love nuts and eat various kinds, depending on their availability. However, feeding just nuts is not suitable for keeping a balanced diet, and you should encourage squirrels to have fruits, vegetables, and other plant material too. Various nuts to include in a squirrel’s diet are:
- hickory nuts
- pine nuts
- macadamia nuts
Which Seeds Do Squirrels Eat?
Squirrels love eating seeds and are often found rummaging through your bird feeder in the backyard for one of their favorite food. However, they do not like all seeds equally. Some seeds will help deter squirrels from your garden or yard if that is what you want.
Niger seeds are not typical squirrel food and one they usually avoid. Similarly, squirrels may eat safflower seeds preferred by many songbirds, but they don’t mainly taste good to them. That said, a hungry squirrel will probably eat any kind of seed readily available to it.
Seeds that squirrels enjoy eating include:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Poppy seeds
- Sesame seeds
Why Are Mushrooms Good For Squirrels?
Squirrels love to eat mushrooms, making a significant part of their diet in the wild. Squirrels eat various types of mushrooms, even those considered toxic for human consumption. Flying squirrels especially enjoy mushrooms in the wild and help by spreading spores along the forest floor.
Mushrooms are an excellent food for squirrels as they are a rich source of proteins, vitamins (especially B vitamins), and minerals. They also contain Vitamin C, Selenium, Potassium, fiber, and Choline. Apart from that, mushrooms are also a dietary source of Vitamin D.
What Do Fox Squirrels Eat?
Food squirrels are omnivorous by nature but mostly rely on a vegetarian diet. However, they occasionally consume insects, insects larvae, and invertebrates. Unlike tree squirrels, fox squirrels spend a great deal of time on the ground looking for fallen nuts and fruits that make up a big part of their feed.
The fox squirrel usually eats nuts, berries, fruits, and seeds, but its dietary habits depend on its location. They also enjoy eating bulbs, tree buds, roots, and even birds’ eggs if the need arises. This squirrel species also feed on corn, wheat, and soybeans. Acorns, black walnuts, and hickory nuts also make up a part of their diet.
What Do Eastern Gray Squirrels (Grey Squirrels) Eat?
Gray or grey squirrels live in dense woodland and can survive on a multitude of foods. They love eating berries, tree barks, flowers and buds. Various nuts like acorn and hazelnuts, as well as different seeds are apart of their diet too.
Gray squirrels also eat fruits, grains and other garden crops. They occasionally feed upon insects, birds and supplement minerals in their natural diet by gnawing on antler and bones.
Their cousins, the red squirrels, also eat a similarly versatile. Both red and grey squirrels hide food to dig it up later, but the grey squirrel’s memory is much better than red squirrels.
What Do Squirrels Hate To Eat?
Like we said, there isn’t much that squirrels do not like to eat. However, there are some foods that they avoid. Not only do squirrels hate these foods, but they can also be used to prevent this rodent from entering your property.
Raw garlic and onion, various chili peppers, and pickled foods are a few of the foods that squirrels hate and will not eat.
Which Foods Should You Not Feed Squirrels?
There are few foods that squirrels will eat, but it is better if you shouldn’t feed them for healthy growth. This includes junk food, sugary cereals, chocolate, and cat food. Starchy food and excessive corns are also a big no-no since they do not have much nutritional value.
Corn and peanuts may seem like popular food to feed squirrels, but they tend to harbor mold, which can be fatal for a squirrel.
Squirrels are primarily herbivorous rodents that supplement their diet with bird eggs, young birds, insects, small animals, and carrion occasionally, when nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and other plant material are unavailable.
These opportunistic omnivores are easy to feed, but that does not necessarily make them good pets. Squirrels are often considered a nuisance by home gardeners as they destroy seedlings. More often than not, you see them invading bird feeders to feast on seeds.
Regardless, these cute rodents continue to be endearing with their bushy tails.