Feeding squirrels is a lot of fun and it always puts a smile on my face when I see them munching away at one of my feeders. Squirrels are omnivores that will eat just about anything. However there are some foods that are great to feed squirrels and some others you should avoid.
It is also important to differentiate between what to feed wild squirrels in your backyard and what to feed pet squirrels that are living in your house.
Let’s look at some of your choices!
What To Feed Wild Squirrels
My favorite things to feed wild squirrels are:
- Dried Corn
- Tree Nuts (Pecans, Walnuts)
- Pumpkin and Pumpkin Seeds
If you are feeding the squirrels in your backyard then dried corn is the most affordable food choice. You can feed them corn that is till on the cob by using something like our cute picnic table squirrel feeder!
You can also feed the squirrels loose corn either on a tray or inside a box feeder.
Dried corn is incredibly inexpensive IF you can purchase it from a farm supply store. These stores are selling corn as feed to cattle, pig and horse farmers who need inexpensive food for their livestock. Dried corn gets considerably more expensive if you buy it from a Big Box store that has it packaged as pet food.
Peanuts (Roasted or Raw)
Peanuts are another great choice for feeding squirrels but there are a few things you need to be aware of before you start feeding them.
If you want to feed them roasted peanuts make sure that the peanuts are unsalted. I haven’t seen any academic studies on the health effects of excess salt intake on squirrels but I can’t imagine that it is good for them.
If you want to feed raw peanuts then check to make sure that the peanuts do not have any mold. Squirrels are usually smart enough to avoid dangerous molds but it doesn’t hurt to be careful.
Squirrels will eat most of the peanuts you give them but will stash some of them away to eat during winter. The squirrels will stash the peanuts in all sorts of crazy places and some of the raw peanuts they stash in the ground will sprout. I stopped feeding raw peanuts after I found peanut plants growing in my flower pots!
Pecans and Walnuts In The Shell
If you are feeling generous then you can feed the squirrels tree nuts like pecans and walnuts. Tree nuts are part of the natural diet of squirrels and they will recognize and appreciate the bounty you are providing.
If you do put out some tree nuts for the squirrels I suggest you use nuts that are still in the shell. Squirrels actually enjoy chewing on nut shells (more on that below) and it keeps them at the feeder longer. The in shell nuts also last longer for when the squirrels stash some away.
As many backyard bird watchers will attest, squirrels LOVE birdseed. Squirrels love birdseed so much that they will often completely destroy a feeder to reach the seeds inside. This behavior frustrates so many people that the sales of squirrel proof bird feeders has become a multimillion dollar business! However, squirrels do not like all bird seed the same.
The seed that squirrels seem to love the most is black oil sunflower seeds. You can usually buy these seeds in bulk (40 pounds) for about $0.50 per pound. The downside to feeding sunflower seeds is that the discarded hulls can create a mess. If you want to spend a little more then you can buy the raw seeds that have already been shelled. The shelled seeds are typically sold as “sunflower chips”. Sunflower chips cost a lot more than sunflower seeds in the shell but they leave absolutely no mess behind.
The seed that squirrels seem to hate is white safflower seeds. Squirrels just won’t touch any of the safflower seeds that I have put out. Once I discovered how much squirrels dislike safflower I included it in my ultimate squirrel proof bird feeding station.
Pumpkin and Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin and pumpkin seeds are fun fall treats to give to your squirrels.
When I am making Jack-O-Lanterns for Halloween I will save the pumpkin seeds that I scoop out and then roast them on a cookie sheet (400F, 30 minutes). Some people like to eat the seeds themselves but I prefer to give them to the squirrels.
After Halloween is over I will cut the Jack-O-Lantern into two inch blocks and either put them in a feeder or scatter them on my porch deck rail. I cut the pumpkin into sections to keep one squirrel from hogging the whole thing. If you want you can put the whole pumpkin out by the trees and the squirrels will find it.
By the way, this “squirrel cam” video of squirrels eating pumpkin is absolutely adorable!
What To Feed Pet Squirrels
If you are feeding a pet squirrel then you need to think about the complete dietary needs of the animal. You shouldn’t feed a squirrel a diet that only consists of corn a peanuts as those foods do not cover all of the vitamins and minerals that wild squirrels obtain on their own.
There are a few commercial feed mixtures designed specifically for pet squirrels and the best products I have seen are made by a company called Exoctic Nutrition.
Something that is critical to include in the feed mix for pet squirrels is a naturally occurring hard substrate such as animal bones or antlers. Squirrels are rodents and must constantly chew to keep their front teeth filed down. Without something hard to chew on the squirrel’s teeth will become overgrown and serious health issues or even death will result.
The Exoctic Nutrition products do contain “rodent blocks” for chewing but they recommend supplementing the feed with additional chewing materials.