Since the installation of a few squirrel proof bird feeders in my backyard I have started wondering what those furry little critters are going to munch on. It begs the question, in the absence of bird seed, “What do squirrels eat?”
Squirrels are omnivores that will eat just about anything. Squirrels primarily stick to a vegetarian diet of nuts, leaves, berries, fruit and flowering buds as these are the most abundant food sources available. Bird eggs can be a source of protein for squirrels along with small insects.
Squirrels are smart. Offer them a slice of pizza and they will love you.
Peanut Butter is also a favorite treat.
What Do Tree Squirrels Eat?
The most common squirrels in my neck of the wood are Grey and Fox tree squirrels. Like many people, I have a love-hate relationship with tree squirrels.
Grey and Fox squirrels tend to eat food that is available in and near trees. This includes nuts, seeds, berries, twigs, leaves and tree buds. However, they are definitely not vegetarians as they will readily consume food such as eggs and insects as well.
Although eating berries and leaves may sound boring it can actually be quite silly if the vegetation has fermented and the squirrels get intoxicated!
If you are looking to attract tree squirrels to your home then keep it as wooded and green as possible so that shrubs and trees will provide plenty of food such as fruits, nuts, seeds and cones.
Dying and dead trees should be left unaltered so that they can be used for food storage as well as nesting. Consider leaving shrub and tree prunings around in the winter for them.
You might even want to consider adding a squirrel feeder that lets you put out corn or peanuts for them to enjoy. You can also provide them with a nest box that is designed for use by tree squirrels.
Around Halloween you might want to move your Jack O Lantern to the backyard because some squirrels REALLY love pumpkins!
Make sure you mount any nest boxes or squirrel feeders at least 10 feet off the ground. You want the squirrels to be high enough that they can safely taunt any cats or dogs in your yard.
Do not hand-feed squirrels as doing so can lead to them no longer possessing a healthy fear of humans.
Do not allow them indoors, or they may start eating and nesting there much more than you would like. Squirrels can also cause quite a bit of damage to wires, furniture and other things.
What Do Flying Squirrels Eat?
Flying squirrels, do not actually fly but have the appearance of doing so since they can glide hundreds of feet when using their parachute-like membranes. These nocturnal critters have a highly developed sense of smell, which allows them to be active and search for food at night.
They can cover quite a bit of territory when gliding as they can travel about 3 miles in a few hours while searching for food, mating opportunities or otherwise. One benefit of gliding from one place to another is that doing so does not burn many calories and allows them to conserve energy and, as a result, not need to eat as much.
These animals will tend to eat much of what they come across, and this selection of food will usually include fruit such as plums, pears, berries and apples. Fruits will oftentimes make up half of the food that flying squirrels eat.
In addition to fruits, seeds, nuts and plants are also consumed on a regular basis. These include acorns, hickory nuts, leaves and tree bark.
Oh yeah…they also really like Cheerios.
Flying squirrels also have a carnivorous aspect of their diet and enjoy insects, eggs and mice. They will also often gnaw on antlers and bones, good sources of calcium that also keep their teeth chiseled.
Flying squirrels are often held in captivity and making sure they have a diverse diet that reflects what they would get in the wild is important.
Those in captivity can be given mealworms. A source of calcium is required; this can be done by feeding it deer antler, mushrooms and calcium powder. Providing them with tree branches that have no pesticides can help keep their teeth healthy.
What do Ground Squirrels Eat?
Ground squirrels do in fact spend much of their time in the ground. Like ants, they will create a system of tunnels, which are generally located under trees, rocks or logs, in which to traverse and keep warm in the winter.
Although multiple ground squirrels may share the same burrow, they will generally use their own entrances and not interact with each other. They do take advantage of an impressive communication system when the situation is dangerous by whistling to each other.
This particular type of squirrel is more domesticated than the others as they are generally much more comfortable around people. They also tend to be inquisitive, which also leads to them being more sociable with humans.
These animals tend to sleep in their tunnels in the evenings and be active and out in the open during the daytime hours. They do sometimes climb trees, but, unlike flying and tree squirrels, they feel more at home in the ground.
Ground squirrels tend to have balanced diets as they like fruits, vegetables and meat. In fact, they tend to enjoy a wide palate and don’t often turn down food. They can eat weeds one day and consume a dead animal that it came across on another.
So, in those ways, it can be of a benefit to many people. However, ground squirrels can also take care of a garden that you had been carefully cultivating, so it depends on your perspective whether you’ll be happy or upset to see them nearby.
In general, these animals tend to focus on foods like fruits, plants and insects. The latter is another example in which ground squirrels could be welcome or not by people as they tend to consume insects that you want to get rid of as well as those that prove useful in a number of ways.
What Do Squirrels Eat in the Winter?
To prepare for that quiet part of the year when little food is generally available, ground squirrels hibernate as they usually do not store food to eat later.
Conversely, tree and flying squirrels will save food during the fall in order to have something to eat in the winter. These food items will generally be placed in shallow holes and then covered up. In fact, they will often create so many of these holes that they will not remember them all. Those forgotten areas will include seeds that will germinate, and greenery will be created as a result.
Flying squirrels will collect and store more than 10,000 nuts to consume during winter. Flying squirrels will also consume conifer seeds to supplement their nut collection.
Tree squirrels will also store food, especially nuts in odd places like abandoned cars, exhaust pipes and garden pots. As long as it can be used as a food storage location, these animals are not picky.
Squirrels will also tend to eat quite a bit during the fall to help increase the amount of fat that is on their body to help them last through the expected lean times of winter. They will create nests to ride out the winter before venturing out from time to time to these storage areas as well as to find fresh food whenever it becomes available.
Those who are awake and active when it gets cold need to both use whatever they were able to hoard in the fall and be careful and decisive as far as when they head out into oftentimes bitter cold. Simply put, do they expect to secure an amount or type of food that makes it worth spending the energy necessary to make that journey?
The biggest issue for squirrels during the winter is being able to find any food at all. They will generally grab anything that is accessible and may expand the types of foods that it eats during this trying time of the year.
What do Baby Squirrels Eat?
These animals usually breed once or twice a year, and mothers are pregnant for about 39 days. Once born, the babies are blind and deaf for several weeks. During this time and beyond, for a total period of about seven weeks, the mother will feed her babies her milk. She will then supplement that with food that she also eats such as nuts and vegetables over the next few weeks as she weans them off of her milk.
Should you find a baby squirrel and efforts to reunite it with its mothers have proven unsuccessful, you may end up being responsible for its well-being. First, ensure that it is warm and hydrated as those things need to be taken care of before it is fed. At that point, make sure to use specialized formula, biscuits and other food that have been specifically made for baby squirrels.
Here is a video on the basic of feeding baby squirrels.
Once that has become habitual, consider adding foods such as cauliflower, broccoli and sweet potatoes, one at a time. Make sure to do so gradually, however, to ensure that diarrhea does not occur. If 24 hours have passed diarrhea-free, then consider introducing another food. Other foods that could be given include mushrooms, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, grapes, berries and grains.
Note that which foods should be fed to baby squirrels can very, so make sure to get one or more professional opinions before looking to wean one yourself.