If you are thinking about feeding the squirrels in your backyard then, just like feeding birds, there are quite a few things to consider. You need to have a handle on the proper foods to put out, how to attract squirrels and how to make sure the squirrels can safely enjoy the snacks that you are providing.
Let’s get started and take a look at everything you need to know about feeding squirrels!
How to Enjoy Watching Squirrels
On one hand, feeding squirrels can be as simple as tossing a handful of peanuts onto you deck and seeing if any squirrels are brave enough to grab them.
However, if you really want to have the most fun with these furry critters then you can think more holistically and create a habitat that includes feeders, shelter and a water source. I am not saying that you need to “go nuts” and spend hundreds of dollars on products and gadgets, but simply take a little time to think like a squirrel when you are setting things up.
“In a nutshell”, squirrels need food, water, shelter from the elements and protection from predators. If you can provide all of these requirements then the squirrels will be more attracted to your yard and you will have a lot more fun watching their antics.
Should I Feed Squirrels in My Backyard?
A fundamental question that gets asked is whether or not you should even feed backyard squirrels in the first place. After all, squirrels are wildlife and every wildlife authority will tell you that feeding wildlife is bad.
Feeding wildlife makes them dependent upon humans, exposes them to something other than their natural diet and increases negative interactions with household cats and dogs.
I get the arguments. It makes sense on many levels.
And yet these same sources that tell us not to feed wildlife simultaneously offer us extensive guides on how to feed wild birds and keep squirrels out of birdfeeders. Hmmmm……does something seem “squirrely” about that to you?
Personally, I love to feed squirrels and I have no moral issues doing so because it serves two purposes:
- Keeps Them Away From Bird Feeders
- Helps Squirrels Survive Winter
Keeps Squirrels Away From Bird Feeders
Trying to keep squirrels out of birdfeeders is a multi-million dollar business. You can spend well over $100 on a Droll Yankee squirrel proof bird feeder and still end up frustrated.
To me the answer to the bird feeder problem was obvious. I give the squirrels a safe place to eat corn or other snacks and fill my bird feeders with safflower seeds. Most songbirds love safflower but it is not a food that squirrels enjoy.
This way I get to watch birds and squirrels and everybody gets tasty treats!
Helps Squirrels Survive Winter
Surprisingly, it even helps squirrels survive winter by feeding them in the fall. In the fall squirrels will gorge on whatever then can find in order to bulk up with a protective layer of fat. The fat layer serves both as insulation and a nutrient reserve.
Wildlife specialists will tell us that we should not interfere with natural cycles and we shouldn’t take efforts to help wildlife make it through the winter.
Nope. Not at my house.
What are Squirrels’ Favorite Food?
Squirrels are omnivores that will eat just about anything but their favorite food is generally the tree nuts found in its natural habitat. But, while it might be tempting to put native tree nuts in a feeder, you will soon find it to be an expensive proposition to feed your squirrels pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, etc.
Affordable food options that squirrels love include:
- Dried Ear Corn
- Roasted Unsalted Peanuts (More Information Below)
- Sunflower Seeds
Another option to consider is putting out a supplement such as deer antlers. Squirrels are rodents and need to gnaw on hard surfaces to keep their teeth sharp and prevent overgrowth. Supplements such as deer antlers provide both a hard surface and much needed calcium and other micro nutrients.
Yet another option to consider is to add a water source. Squirrels need water just as much as any other animal and will often come to water trays as long as they are not exposed in the open.
What not to feed a squirrel?
Do not feed squirrels highly processed junk food. Seriously, you know that you really shouldn’t be eating Twinkies so why would you ever entice a squirrel to eat one?
Chocolate is slightly toxic to squirrels and must not be fed.
There are also some types of peanuts that I do not recommend which are:
- Raw/Fresh Peanuts
- Salted Peanuts
- Honey Roasted Peanuts
I would avoid Raw/Fresh peanuts for two reasons.
The first reason that I avoid fresh peanuts is that squirrels will bury many of them as winter food caches and they will germinate and grow all over your yard and in your flower pots. I fed fresh peanuts for a short period of time and my yard ended up looking like a peanut farm!
The second reason I avoid fresh peanuts is that the high moisture content makes them susceptible for growing toxic mold if improperly stored for long periods of time. The toxic mold that can grow on stored fresh peanuts is very harmful to squirrels.
I avoid salted and honey roasted peanuts because the sodium content is through the roof and serves no beneficial purpose to the squirrels.
If you want to feed your squirrels peanuts then please stick to roasted and unsalted.
Can You Buy Squirrel Food?
There are LOTS of commercial squirrel foods for sale and many of them are quite good but a little expensive. Some of the best squirrel food options for sale include:
- Bags of Dried Ear Corn
- Bags of Roasted Peanuts
- Loose Feed Mix with Corn, Peanuts and Sunflower Seeds
- Squirrel Blocks with Corn, Peanuts and Pecans
The one commercial squirrel food that I would avoid are “Squirrel Logs” made of compressed sweet corn. I have tried to get my squirrels to eat these corn logs multiple times and they absolutely refused to even take a nibble.
Where to Put Squirrel Food?
I always put squirrel food in a tree mounted feeder that is at least five feet off the ground.
Squirrels are often eaten by hawks and foxes, or killed by cats and dogs, so it is critical that they can eat someplace where they can escape from potential predators.
If you have a choice, put the feeder in a tree with large, overarching branches to protect the squirrels from hawks as much as possible.
Do not try to attract squirrels to an exposed Shephard’s hook type feeder in the middle of an open yard or on your deck rail. It is too easy for cats, dogs and other animals to catch and kill squirrels when they are openly exposed and distracted by food.
How Often Should I Feed?
I like to put out some food, but not a lot, in the morning.
If you are feeding loose food such as a squirrel mix or loose peanuts then put out about a cup of food. If you are feeding corn on the cob then one ear of corn is plenty.
Squirrels are most active shortly after sunrise so having fresh food available in the morning will make the food be available at just the right time.
By only putting out a limited amount of food you will be able to help the squirrels meet their dietary needs without making them completely dependent upon you. Squirrels need a varied diet so all you are trying to do is supplement their natural food sources.
Will squirrel food attract rats?
If you put out big piles of squirrel food then it will absolutely attract rats.
This is another reason that you want to put out a limited amount of feed early in the morning. Squirrels are active during the day while rats are active at night.
If you put out a limited quantity of food in the morning then the squirrels will eat it all during the day and it will not attract rats at night.