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What Do Squirrels Eat? (And 5 Reasons Not to Feed Them)

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Squirrels are omnivores. They eat plants, nuts, seeds,  fruits, insects, bird eggs and nestlings, small amphibians, and young mice.

Squirrels are effective foragers. They are both fast and excellent climbers, making their food-collecting abilities extraordinary.

But what do squirrels eat? And can you feed the squirrels in your garden? 

In this article, we answer these questions and give you five reasons not to feed squirrels. You will also learn how to make your garden an attractive habitat for local squirrels without feeding them. 

What Do Squirrels Eat?

What squirrels eat depends on the type of squirrel and their habitat. As omnivores, they eat a combination of plants, fruits, nuts with the occasional insects, bird eggs and nestlings, small amphibians, and young mice.

There are many types and species of squirrels. Many of these have different food preferences. But there is some overlap.

Most squirrels eat:

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Insects
  • Eggs
  • Waste
  • Various plant materials

What Common Squirrels Eat 

There are 200 types of squirrels all over the world. While diets differ slightly due to different habitats, most squirrels eat a diverse diet consisting of nuts, seeds, plants, fungi, fruit, insects, and small animals. 

There are three main types of squirrels:

  1. Tree squirrels
  2. Ground squirrels
  3. Tree squirrels

These are commonly found in nature across the world. Due to a loss of natural habitat, some squirrels have also adapted to living in urban and suburban settings.[1] 

You may have seen one of these types of squirrels in local parks, gardens, and or on golf courses:  

  • Eastern Gray Squirrels
  • American Red Squirrels
  • Fox Squirrels
  • Southern Flying Squirrels 
  • Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrels

Here is the diet of these common squirrels native to North America

1. Eastern Gray Squirrels’ Diet 

Eastern Gray Squirrels’ Diet

Eastern gray squirrels are omnivores. They eat plants, nuts, seeds, fruit, bird eggs, and frogs. 

These squirrels do particularly well in areas with oak, walnut, and pine trees. These trees provide nutrient-dense food that the squirrels can hoard for winter. 

List of what Eastern Gray squirrels eat:

  • Nuts (walnuts and pine nuts)
  • Acorns
  • Seeds
  • Flowers
  • Tree buds of oak, hickory, pecan, walnut, and beech trees
  • Herbaceous plants
  • Fruit (mostly berries)
  • Gingko tree seeds, bulbs, and flowers
  • Fungi
  • Corn
  • Wheat
  • Insects
  • Bird eggs and nestlings
  • Frogs[2]

2. American Red Squirrels’ Diet 

American Red Squirrels’ Diet 
Image Source

Red squirrels are primarily herbivores. They do eat meat occasionally.[3]  

List of what American Red squirrels eat:

  • Pine tree seeds
  • Mushrooms
  • Tree buds and flowers
  • Fleshy fruits
  • Tree sap and bark
  • Insects (occasionally)
  • Bird eggs (occasionally)[4]

3. Fox Squirrels’ Diet 

Fox Squirrels’ Diet
Image Source

Fox squirrels /North America’s largest native tree squirrels) are omnivores. 

List of what Fox squirrels eat:

  • Nuts
  • Flowers
  • Buds of oak trees, walnut, hickory, and pecan trees
  • Fruits
  • Seeds
  • Birds’ eggs
  • Nestlings of birds
  • Other small animals[5]

4. Southern Flying Squirrels’ Diet

Southern Flying Squirrels’ Diet
Image Source

Flying squirrels are omnivores. They are nocturnal, so they hunt and forage for food at night. 

List of what South Flying squirrels eat:

  • Seeds
  • Nuts (hickory nuts and acorns are their favorites)
  • Fungi
  • Fruit like berries 
  • Insects, like moths, June bugs, and leaf buds 
  • Bark 
  • Eggs
  • Young birds
  • Young mice 
  • Carrion (decaying flesh of dead animals)[6]

5. Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrels’ Diet 

Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrels’ Diet
Image Source

Thirteen-lined ground squirrels are omnivores that love seeds. Their genus name, Spermophilus, translates from Latin to ‘seed lover.’

List of what Thirteen-Lined ground squirrels eat:

  • Seeds of weeds
  • Seeds of corn and wheat
  • Leaves of grass and clover
  • Insects like grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, ants, and these insects’ eggs[7]
  • Small vertebrates (occasionally)
  • Bird eggs
  • Carrion[8]

Where Do Squirrels Find Their Food?

Squirrels find their food in nature in the form of tree buds, seeds and nuts, flowers, leaves, plants, fungi, insects, bird eggs, and sometimes small creatures. In urban areas, squirrels also find food in bird feeders, pet food bowls, bins, and compost heaps. 

Squirrels use their strong sense of smell to find food. They use their speed and agility to secure each meal before being spotted by a predator. 

Squirrels will eat what is most readily available. In urban areas, this means bins, pet food bowls, and bird feeders are fair game. 

They often eat food that is bad for them because of this.

To avoid this from happening on your property, don’t leave your pet’s food outside and keep outside bins securely closed. 

Related: Can Squirrels Eat Chocolate?

What Do Squirrels Eat in the Winter? 

In the winter, squirrels feed on available food sources and food they collected and stored in the fall.Squirrels most commonly eat nuts during the winter as these are easy to store.

Fox and Eastern gray squirrels eat wild tree fruits and nuts in fall and early winter. This includes osage orange fruits, acorns, hickory nuts, and walnuts. They eat tree buds in late winter and early spring. [9] 

What Do Squirrels Eat in the Winter

American red squirrels love the seeds of pine trees and will store some for winter. They are also known to eat the parts of tree bark that trees use to transport nutrients in winter.

Southern flying squirrels enjoy hickory nuts and acorns and will store a supply for winter.

Thirteen-lined ground squirrels hibernate and store a provision of plant matter and seeds for eating when they wake up from hibernation.[8] 

Type of Squirrel What they eat in the winter
Eastern gray squirrelsWild tree fruits, nuts, tree buds, and other available food sources. 
Fox squirrels Wild tree fruits, nuts, tree buds, and other available food sources. 
American red squirrels Pine tree seeds, nutrient-rich tree bark, and other available food sources. 
Southern flying squirrelsHickory nuts, acorns, and other available food sources. 
Thirteen-lined ground squirrels Plant matter and seeds. 

Is It A Good Idea To Feed Squirrels? 

No, many wildlife experts say that it is not a good idea to feed squirrels. Feeding squirrels can lead to an overpopulation of non-native squirrels and put extra pressure on the dwindling population of native squirrels. It can also attract unwanted wildlife, increase the risk of squirrels becoming aggressive, and negatively impact their health. 

Related: What Can You Feed Squirrels?

5 Reasons Not to Feed Squirrels 

1. Unnatural Increase of a Squirrel Population 

Feeding squirrels leads to an unnatural increase population of squirrels.

If a growing squirrel population is reliant on your food supply and you move away or are unable to feed them, the squirrels suffer. [10] 

2. Squirrels Lose Instinctive Fear of Humans 

Another danger of feeding squirrels is that they can lose their instinctive fear of humans. 

This can increase the chance of squirrels becoming aggressive and biting you or members of your household when they expect food and don’t get it. [11] 

3. It Can Negatively Affect Squirrels’ Health 

When squirrels forage and hunt for food naturally, they eat a wide range of foods. When people feed squirrels, they end up eating an unbalanced and nutritionally deficient diet. 

With good intentions, people feeding squirrels nuts can unknowingly increase squirrels’ risk of developing Metabolic Bone Disease. This condition causes brittle bones that break easily. It is irreversible and can be fatal.[12] 

4. It Can Attract Unwanted Wildlife 

Squirrel feeders attract wildlife that you rather don’t want in your garden and home, like rats. 

5. The Negative Impact on Native Squirrels 

If you have native and non-native Eastern gray squirrels in your area, feeding them can negatively impact the population of native squirrels. 

This is because Eastern gray squirrels are resilient, quick breeding, and are often larger than many native squirrels, like the red squirrel.

Instead of feeding squirrels, The RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) recommends providing a habitat. By planting trees like oak, beech, sweet chestnut, and hazel, you also provide them with food.

What Can You Feed Squirrels? 

It is not advisable to feed squirrels, but if you are going to do it, offer healthy fresh foods. This includes raw, unsalted nuts, fresh fruits, and vegetables. 

Nuts 

You can fee squirrels unsweetened and unsalted almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts. 

What Can You Feed Squirrels

Fruits and Vegetables

Squirrels can eat the following fruits and vegetables: 

  • Apple 
  • Bean sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Green beans
  • Spinach[13]  

What Not To Feed Squirrels 

Don’t feed squirrels too many nuts, bread, cereal, junk foods, foods made for other animals, or cooked and processed foods with salt, sugar and other additives. 

Squirrels are their healthiest when they eat food foraged in the wild. These foods are unprocessed and high in nutrients that squirrels need. 

Due to the nature of foraging and hunting, squirrels who find their own food have a nutritionally balanced diet. 

Squirrels fed by humans often end up eating one type of food most days, like nuts. They reach their energy needs quickly, sometimes exceeding them. They also don’t need to forage for other foods in nature, resulting in a lack of nutrition.

Foods like cereals and bread fill squirrels’ stomachs but don’t offer any nutritional value.[14] 

This leads to a nutritionally unbalanced diet and malnutrition. Feeding squirrels can increase their risk of developing diseases like Metabolic Bone Disease and shorten their lifespans

Conclusion 

Interfering in squirrels’ natural process of foraging makes them dependent on humans for food. This negatively affects their health and increases the risk of aggression towards humans. 

Squirrels are self-reliant creatures capable of feeding themselves. In the right habitat, squirrels are able to source a variety of foods that benefit their health and help maintain a balanced eco-system. 

If you do enjoy watching squirrels dart around and play in your garden, create a habitat that naturally supports them. This means adding trees and plants to your garden that provide natural sources of food for squirrels. 

FAQs

Do Squirrels Eat Bugs?

Yes, squirrels are known to eat insects. All tree squirrels eat insects. Southern flying squirrels are known to eat moths and Thirteen-lined ground squirrels enjoy eating grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, ants, and insect eggs. 

Can Squirrels Eat Carrots? 

Yes, squirrels can eat carrots. Only ever feed squirrels fresh uncooked carrots and never feed squirrels by hand. To help them grab food and run away from potential; predators, cut carrots into smaller, manageable chunks. 

Do Squirrels Eat Grasshoppers? 

Squirrels can eat grasshoppers Thirteen-lined ground squirrels, which live in grasslands, are particularly fond of eating grasshoppers and grasshoppers’ eggs. 

Will Squirrels Eat Dog Food?

Squirrels do eat dog food that is left outside. It is not advisable to feed them dog food because it is not designed to meet the nutritional needs of squirrels. If you feed your dogs outside, pick up their bowls when they are done or when bringing your dogs inside. 

What Do Squirrels Eat Besides Nuts? 

Other than nuts, squirrels eat plant matter (like tree buds and leaves), wild berries and fruit, flowers, seeds, fungi, insects and insect eggs, bird eggs and nestlings, young mice, and frogs. 

Do Squirrels Eat Vegetables? 

Squirrels can eat vegetables. According to the RSPCA, squirrels can eat bean sprouts, carrots, celery, green beans, and spinach.  

About Monique Warner

Monique is an avid dog lover who grew up with dogs, cats, and budgies as pets. She has worked as a pet sitter and dog walker. With her passion for dogs and pets alike, she writes articles with the intention of helping pet owners solve their biggest struggles.

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