What Do Squirrels Eat In The Wild?

what do squirrels eat

What do squirrels eat? You may be asking yourself this if you’ve seen squirrels out in the wild or even in your own yard. Just what food is it that that attracts them?

Squirrels are omnivores which means they eat a wide variety of nuts, seeds, fruits, fungi, vegetation, eggs, insects, and meat. Squirrels are opportunistic eaters which means they will often eat foods that are not good for them. Baby squirrels will drink their mother’s milk for the first 6 weeks after they are born.

So squirrels don’t just live off of nuts, they have a varied diet. This will vary a lot depending on the squirrel species, their environment, food availability, and the seasons.

This guide will take you through the squirrels’ diet and how this can help you to attract them, or even keep them out of your yard.

Sound good? Then let’s get going.

What Do Squirrels Eat In The Wild?

1. Nuts

Since most squirrels are tree dwellers, they have plenty of nuts from the evergreen trees around them. Nuts are a favorite food for squirrels because they are easily stored.

You know that phrase ‘squirreling it away’, that comes from the behavior of squirrels to hide food away to eat at another time. Nuts are great for this.

Squirrels love nuts that are still in their shell including:

  • Pecan
  • Walnuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Almonds
  • Acorns

That’s because squirrels get a lot of benefit for their mouth muscles and teeth by getting the nut out of its shell. Nuts will provide squirrels with lots of protein and healthy fats.

Squirrels love to eat peanuts you offer up at bird feeders. The problem is that peanuts are very good for squirrels to eat in large amounts.

Peanuts are actually legumes rather than true nuts. They are high in phosphate and low in calcium. This causes problems with nutrient absorption and leads to brittle bones in squirrels.

To keep squirrels healthy try not to let them raid peanut-only feeders.  If you can, try to use a squirrel-proof bird feeder or a baffle to keep them away.

2. Seeds

Squirrels love to eat seeds, especially bird seed from backyard bird feeders. It’s simply a really easy source of food for them.

Squirrels will go to quite some length to get into your bird feeders. They are actually very entertaining to watch at times.

The issue is that once they get into your feeders they will very quickly empty them. A persistent squirrel can cost you quite a lot of money in bird seed.

Black sunflower seed is a particular favorite of squirrels. If you have a squirrel problem in your yard then you may need to consider removing them from your feeders.

 You can prevent squirrels from eating all your bird seed using squirrel-proof devices.  A weight-activated feeder (this is the Amazon bestseller). Or use a squirrel baffle (like this) to stop them from reaching your feeders.

A top birdwatcher tip to stop squirrels from coming back to your feeder is to use safflower seed. This amazing seed is hated by squirrels because of its bitter taste, but birds love it.

3. Fruit & Vegetables

Squirrels will eat fruits and vegetables that they find in the wild. Fruits and vegetables are full of energy, nutrients, and fiber to keep squirrels healthy.

Squirrels can easily find fruits in the trees they use. They will pick off the fruit and nibble away on them.

Fruits squirrels like are:

  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Apricots
  • Avocados

Squirrels will also happily try to eat any vegetable that they can get their hand on. They can be a bit of a nightmare for backyard gardeners.

One vegetable the squirrels love is corn on the cob. Although corn is pretty much like squirrel junk food. It doesn’t provide them with much nutrition and should be eaten in small amounts.

Vegetables that are good for squirrels are:

  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli

If you trying to attract squirrels to your yard you can offer them up chopped-up pieces of fruit and vegetables on a squirrel feeder (this one is my favorite). Be careful to regularly clean and change to food so you don’t attract vermin or disease to your backyard wildlife.

Be careful around Halloween with fresh pumpkins displays on your porch, as decorated pumpkins can be dangerous for hungry squirrels. Try to deter wild squirrels from eating your Halloween pumpkins.

4. Fungi

Squirrels love to eat fungi. In fact, it’s an important part of a red squirrel’s diet in the summer and autumn months.

Fungi will provide squirrels with nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

In the woodland habitats, fungi can be found in abundance for squirrels to eat. Squirrels will eat most types of mushrooms even poisonous one.

There is a theory that mushrooms may actually give off a scent to attract squirrels to them. It’s thought they do this as a way for squirrels to spread mushroom spores around the forest.

5. Vegetation

Squirrels don’t only eat the fruit or vegetable on a plant, they will actually eat the whole plant itself.

Grey squirrels are known for destroying plant crops and will eat:

  • Bark
  • Bulbs
  • Roots
  • Bud
  • Shoots

They will sometimes use these parts to build nests, but can also get nutrients from eating this vegetation. When a squirrel eats tree bark they are trying to expose a sugary sap layer underneath that they can eat.

6. Insects

Although squirrels mainly rely on nuts, seeds, fruit, and vegetation, they will eat insects too. Insects are a great source of protein for squirrels. There is also a lot of them available in the spring and summer months, and they are easy to catch.

Squirrels will eat:

  • Worms
  • Caterpillars
  • Butterflies
  • Ants
  • Bees
  • Crickets
  • Beetles

Squirrels don’t go hunting for insects but they will eat them if they are readily available.  Unlike nuts seeds and vegetation, the insects can fight back with predators like squirrels. They may try to bite, sting, and poison, or give off putrid smells when eaten. This will most likely deter a squirrel from eating the same insect species again.

7. Small animals

Squirrels are predators, which means they will kill smaller animals to eat. Usually, this will only happen if a squirrel has no other source of food available to them and they are facing starvation.

Squirrels will go after small birds, mice, and rats. They may even attempt large animals if they are desperate enough.

A female squirrel may also try to kill snakes who are raiding their nest. If she successes they will eat the snake after killing it.

Squirrels are also known to raid birds’ nests for eggs. These can provide squirrels with a lot of protein, calcium, and nutrient that are vital for a starving squirrel.

8. Squirrel Milk

Baby squirrels (kits) will drink only squirrel breastmilk from their mother for the first 6 weeks. Baby squirrels won’t try to eat solid foods until this time.

Once they reach the right age, the mother squirrel will take the baby squirrels out foraging with her to show them where to find found sources. 

Once the squirrels get to around 8-10 weeks old they are fully weaned and will start to move away from their mother and forage on their own.

Should you feed squirrels?

Feeding squirrels in your backyard is a personal choice.

Most wildlife organizations will discourage you from feeding squirrels. This is because it can make them vulnerable in the wild and decrease their natural indicts.

Feeding squirrels can also lead to them becoming aggressive with humans if they don’t find the found source they’ve come to rely on.

The problem is that watching squirrels in your yard is really entertaining for us humans.

The best way around the issue is to put out food for birds inside squirrel-proof feeders. That way if the squirrels make it through the obstacle then they deserve to dine in your yard.

This way it won’t be easy for them to rely on your feeder as an easy food source. Plus their antics trying to get to the food will be hilarious.

Feeding squirrel’s Junk food

If you choose to put out a specific feeder for the squirrel then it’s best to give them foods that they would eat in the wild. This includes seeds, nuts, fruit, and veg.

Feeding a squirrel junk food such as chips, cookies, baked goods or any sugary or salty treats is irresponsible. This will encourage squirrels to raid trashcans and cause issues for your neighborhood. Plus it’s really bad for their health and the health of any babies they have.

Squirrels will try to fill up on this nutritionally poor junk food. This leaves them lacking in essential nutrients, fats and proteins. These are essential for squirrels to survive cold seasons, give birth to healthy baby squirrels, and produce enough milk to feed their babies.

If you want to offer squirrels something to eat, but don’t have time to offer fresh foods then to can use a commercial squirrel mix (this Wagner’s one is a bestseller).

What do Red Squirrels Eat?

Red squirrels have a diet similar to other squirrel species. The difference is that they are a bit more selective about the foods they eat.

That’s because Red squirrels cannot digest green vegetation like other squirrel species can. This is particularly true with green acorns.

Other squirrel species can eat or stash away all the green acorns or vegetation in the springtime. This means there may be less to mature into suitable food for the red squirrels in the summer and autumn months. Due to this other squirrel species can limit the food supply for red squirrels.

What do squirrels eat in winter?

Some squirrel species such as the ground squirrels will hibernate during the winter. That will eat food that they’ve stashed away during the warmer months. This is mainly nuts as they store well.

Tree squirrels don’t hibernate during winter but they will do the same and eat from their own food caches. Tree squirrels will also eat what’s available at the time during the winter. This is mostly fungi, berries, and nuts.

During the summer and autumn months, squirrels will try to eat as much as they can to up their fat reserves. This behavior helps them to survive longer in the winter if they have periods when food is scarce.

Final Thoughts

Squirrels have a pretty varied diet. They are opportunistic eaters pretty much anything that is edible. That means they will happily eat something even if it’s not nutritionally any good for them.

Squirrels are omnivores so they will eat both plant and animals matter. Although a squirrel’s diet is mainly made up of nuts, seeds, fruit veg, and fungi, they will eat meat if they get the opportunity.

Squirrels have adapted well to living near humans and will eat any food scrap put out for them, and will even raid your bird feeders.

If you like to attract squirrels to your yard, be responsible about it. Don’t give them junk food such as cakes and cookies. This is bad for their health and may even harm species number in your area.

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