Squirrels are clever creatures that have adapted well to living among people. Squirrels are also extremely intelligent critters that have demonstrated that they have excellent memories. Given their close proximity to us and their great memories it begs the question, “Do squirrels remember humans?”
There are many well documented cases of squirrels remembering humans. Orphaned squirrels that were raised by a human are will often return and visit their foster parents. Wild squirrels are easily trained to remember that certain people can be safe and trusted sources of food. The strong memory of squirrels has been demonstrated in academic studies of their ability to repeat complicated tasks such as navigating mazes and working a series of levers.
How Good Is A Squirrel’s Memory?
The most interesting study of squirrel memory power that I have come across was performed by researchers at the University of Exeter. The researchers were studying the ability of grey squirrels to remember how to solve complicated problems.
Researchers constructed a device that required squirrels to press levers to receive a nut. The test squirrels took about 8 seconds to figure out the problem on their first attempt. By the time the squirrels had mastered the problem it only took them 2 seconds to get the nut.
Here is where it gets fun!
Almost two years later the researchers took the exact same squirrels and put them in front of the lever device again. It only took the squirrels 3 seconds to press the right levers to get a nut! This experiment strongly suggests that the squirrels remembered how to perform a complicated task over a time frame of years.
Another excellent demonstration of a squirrel’s ability to remember is shown in this fun short film. The film, produced by BBC Earth Unplugged, shows that once a squirrel navigates a maze the first time that it remembers how it did it and becomes more efficient on each subsequent attempt.
One of the more famous tests of squirrel memory involves hiding nuts under a series of cups. The test was originally constructed to demonstrate that squirrels locate their buried nuts by memory instead of by smell. There have been many variations of this test performed by different researchers but the general concept is as follows:
A squirrel is provided with a series of cups in a row, all of which are empty except for one that contains a stash of nuts. After the squirrel learns which cup holds the nuts the location of the cup containing the nuts is moved and an empty cup is put in its place. The squirrel will consistently go back to the location where it remembers where it found the nuts even though the cup is now empty and the nuts are located under a nearby cup.
The video below has an excellent demonstration of this simple memory test.
Why Would A Squirrel Remember A Person?
A squirrel has a lot going on in its life as it goes about its daily business of searching for food, avoiding predators and trying to mate. Squirrels don’t have much need to think about people other than trying to figure out if they are a predator or a source for food.
If you can get a squirrel to recognize that you are NOT a predator and ARE a source of food then they will remember and interact with you! The video below shows how one man trained the squirrels to learn and remember that he was a safe source of food in only six days!
Of course, squirrels that were rescued as babies learn fast that you can be trusted to hang out with 🙂
Do You Want To Bond With Squirrels in Your Yard?
The idea of hanging out with the squirrels and having them eat peanuts out of your hand is pretty fun. This is something that you can work up to as long as you go about it in the right manner.
Please do NOT start by taking a baby squirrel from a nest to raise it as a pet. While it is possible to raise a baby squirrel on your own it quite often ends with the early death of the baby. The ONLY time you should handle a baby squirrel is if it has clearly been orphaned.
Instead, start by putting out a squirrel feeder to attract the squirrels to your backyard. Place the feeder close to deck, picnic table or other location where you can comfortably sit.
Give the squirrels a week to locate the feeder and learn that it is safe to eat there. Keep the feeder filled with peanuts and sit in a comfortable location nearby. The squirrels will learn that it is safe to eat while you are sitting there.
Once the squirrels routinely are coming to the feeder start placing the peanuts in a pile that is within three feet of you. Once the squirrels learn that it is safe to eat them at that distance then you can start moving the pile closer and eventually have them eating from your hand!