Research shows squirrels have over 200 species with three primary categories, tree, ground, and flying squirrels. These are agile rodents with bushy tails found worldwide. Squirrels belong to the Sciuridae family, which includes marmots and chipmunks. You have probably seen them foraging but do you know what they eat?
- Nuts – Walnuts, white oak acorns, hickory nuts, beechnuts
- Seeds – Broadleaved and coniferous trees
- Fruit – Apricot, apple, banana, blueberries, blackberries, grapefruit
- Fungi – Any non-poisonous
- Grains – Corn, wheat, barley
- Vegetables – Bok choy, broccoli, arugula, red or green cabbage, chayote
Today’s article will focus on North American Squirrels, known as gray squirrels. These are medium-size species that grow up to 20 inches in length, with tails about 9.5 inches, and weigh up to 1.5 pounds. You may think they survive on acorns, but they eat much more than that.
What Do Squirrels Eat?
Although squirrels are omnivorous rodents, their primary diet is based on plant ingredients. For instance, they eat the seeds of broadleaved and coniferous trees. Research shows that squirrels consume bird eggs, grain, young nestlings, buds, fungi, young shoots, and trees’ inner bark layers.
Squirrels also love to eat nuts in their shells, walnuts, white oak acorns, hickory nuts, and beechnuts. These are some of the favorite food items for squirrels living in a wild habitat. On the other hand, yard squirrels should consume nuts, seeds, fruit, corn, leaves, and fungi to balance their metabolism and stay healthy.
What Can I Feed Squirrels?
Squirrels need a healthy and balanced diet rich in proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. A balanced diet includes squirrel blocks, healthy veggies, wild food from outside, nuts, and treats. Captive squirrels are less active than their wild counterparts, meaning they need a balanced diet to optimize their body functions.
A diet of vegetables, seeds, and nuts alone is deficient in protein, B vitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and other essential nutrients, causing dull or patchy fur and leading to the ametabolic bone disease that can cause a wide range of complications. Therefore, it is crucial to give squirrels veggies that provide fresh vitamin C, fiber, proteins, and other micronutrients.
Vegetables And Lettuce
Squirrels prefer bok choy, broccoli, arugula, red or green cabbage, chayote, cauliflower, purslane, watercress, and mushrooms. You can also feed squirrels Boston bibb, chicory, escarole, endive, loose-leaf, ice-burg, romaine, radicchio, etc. Feed these veggies and lettuces freely.
However, you should limit avocado, asparagus, artichokes, celery, carrots, cucumber, fennel, green beans, parsley, kale, and sugar snap peas. In addition, make sure you avoid eggplant, okra, collard greens, red/yellow/green bell peppers, spinach, rhubarb, turnips, Swiss chard, and white potatoes. These food items can cause health complications.
Wild foods are an excellent source of essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It also provides exercise and amusement and keeps teeth worn down. Some safe trees are apple, aspen, black walnut, birch, cherry, dogwood, locust, and maple.
In addition, safe plants include hibiscus, dandelion greens, natal plums, lawn green, purslane, red clover, white clover, red clover, and wood sorrel. Safe flowers for squirrels are carnations, daisies, moss rose, marigold, roses, crocus, tulips, lilies, daffodils, and other bulb flowers.
Other suitable items for squirrels are seashells, antlers, and a clean box of dirt, which will provide trace minerals, help keep teeth worn down, and exercise. Remember, wild mushrooms and acorns are toxic for squirrels, so avoid feeding them.
Squirrels play a crucial role in maintaining the ecosystem, especially in forests. These small species shape plant composition in woods by taking seeds and burying them. Studies highlight that wild seeds are a primary source of nutrients for squirrels.
Giving squirrels treats is a fun way to increase trust and bonding. However, it would help if you always fed them in smaller amounts after eating healthy foods. Experts recommend fruits, including apricot, apple, banana, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, crabapples, grapefruit, grapes, lemon, honeydew, mango, lime, orange, and papaya.
Squirrels also love to eat peaches, pineapples, pears, raspberries, strawberries, pomegranate, and watermelon. Avoid acorns, chestnuts, pits, and seeds to ensure squirrels stay healthy.
Limit fruits to 2-3 pieces per day and nuts to 1-2 per day. Make sure nuts are unsalted and roasted. You can purchase crickets and mealworms live, dried, or canned from a local pet store. Because wild-caught insects include harbor parasites, make sure you avoid them. Acorns are toxic to squirrels because they contain a deadly poison known as aflatoxin.
What Food Do Squirrels Avoid?
Squirrels avoid a wide range of food items, including millet, canary, canola, and nyjer seed. Bear in mind that a starving squirrel tends to eat anything to keep its stomach full and get all the essential nutrients. Captive squirrels will avoid white and black pepper, peppermint, and garlic. These food items have unpleasant smells that bother squirrels.
How To Keep Squirrels Away From Bird Feeders
Squirrels are an acrobatic species and, given a chance, will eat all the food you put out for the birds. These small species can jump several feet to access the feeder. Therefore, keeping the feeders away from the trees, laundry lines, houses, telephone, cable wires, and other launching points is crucial.
In addition, locate the feeder at least 12-15 feet from a tree trunk and 4-5 feet up from the ground. The purpose is to prevent these species from jumping from the tree. At the same time, when you maintain 4-5 feet up from the ground, squirrels won’t reach onto the feeder.
On the other hand, if you hang the bird feeder off a line, keep the length at least 8-10 feet long and suspend the feeder at least 4-5 feet above the ground. You can use monofilament fishing wire to hang the feeder. Some people pole mount birth feeders. In that case, we recommend the pole is at least 6-8 feet in length.
Thus, you can place the pole 1-2 feet into the ground and keep the feeder’s bottom 4-5 feet off the ground. You can also add a squirrel baffle to prevent the problem. A squirrel baffle is an excellent way to deter these species from reaching bird feeders.
It has a sloped and slick surface, preventing squirrels from clinging to it. As a result, the squirrel will slide right off. You can place baffles above or below the feeder on the mounting pole. Finally, try making friends with these small species by offering them cracked corn, dried corncobs, and peanuts in areas away from the bird feeder.
Squirrels are beautiful creatures with unique features and characteristics. For instance, these species can leap their body’s length ten times and turn their ankles 180 degrees. In addition, squirrels have a sharp vision and excellent abilities to mimic other animals.
Squirrels’ most exciting behavior is storing nuts for the winter season. In this post, we have discussed squirrels’ diet and how you can prevent them from accessing bird feeders.