Pop quiz: if you had to draw a picture of a squirrel (regardless of your drawing talents or lack thereof), how would it look? Nine times out of ten, we would draw a squirrel the same way: sitting on its hind legs, furiously gnawing away at some food or other. But what kind of food?
Many of us see squirrels every day. But we have to look closer to learn what do squirrels eat. Perhaps you want to increase the local squirrel population by feeding them a good diet. Maybe you want to get rid of them with foods they dislike. Either way, we’ve got all the answers about squirrel diet and eating habits. Read on, squirrel friend!
What Do Squirrels Eat?
Squirrels are omnivorous mammals with a range of over 200 distinct species worldwide. Omnivores are animals that eat both meat and vegetables, fruits, and plants. That means squirrel diets are somewhat more significant than the mere acorn or walnut you might see them enjoying in your local park or backyard.
In fact, the squirrel diet is one of the most expansive among mammals in North America. Their diets reflect their adaptability, too. Squirrels (like the Fox squirrel, Red squirrel, or Ground squirrel) are smart enough to return to feeders. They can also learn from the eating habits of other backyard wildlife (like raccoons and groundhogs) to find reliable food sources.
The short answer to the question of what to feed squirrels is that they will eat almost anything. That doesn’t mean everything is good for them. Feeding squirrels isn’t a challenge–providing them the best food is. Typical foods for squirrels are:
- Fruits (especially berries like strawberries and blackberries)
- Hickory nuts
- Walnuts and beechnuts
- Osage orange
- Seeds, like pumpkin seeds
Natural Squirrel Diet
The squirrel diet is remarkably diverse. Many experts explain how they have a so-called ‘opportunistic’ diet, meaning they eat pretty much whatever is available to them. In the wild, squirrels enjoy a variety of unusual things they can scrounge, like fungi, bugs, deer antlers, fish skeletons, and larvae.
Earlier, I mentioned fruits, nuts, and seeds. These are easy-to-find things you can feed a backyard squirrel. And, you might be surprised at what else you can feed squirrels. Many squirrel feeders provide eggs. (Yes, eggs. And they also enjoy sugary snacks like carrots, apples, peaches, and pears.)
Many people might not know that squirrels eat high-calcium foods like bone meal, deer antlers, and skeletons (especially fish skeletons.) These foods bolster their diet and provide essential nutrients they can’t get elsewhere.
What Do Squirrels Like To Eat The Most?
It’s challenging to select the foods squirrels like the most because they seem to like everything they find equally. However, close inspection of squirrel eating habits reveals that they do, in fact, have preferences.
What do squirrels like to eat? People interested in building squirrel feeders can improve local populations by feeding them some of the following tasty treats:
- Shelled nuts like pistachios and walnuts
- Variety of fruits, e.g., Apples, Figs, Bananas, Peaches, Plums
- Hickory Nuts, Cashews, Macadamia Nuts
- Insects and winged bugs, crickets, insect larva
What Do Squirrels Like To Eat The Least?
Squirrels may seem to scarf down whatever you feed them, but there are some foods they dislike. How to feed a squirrel? Avoid foods that they dislike and invest in the best squirrel feeder you can afford.
What not to feed squirrels–it’s a good question. For the most part, squirrels avoid foods with an excessively spicy flavor profile. Aromatic, spicy, and smelly foods also put them off. Some of the foods squirrels like to eat the least are:
- Serrano peppers
- Anaheim peppers
You can use squirrel’s aversion to spicy foods to your advantage. To reduce local populations or prevent more squirrels from your garden, mix a small amount of hot sauce with water and spray it directly on your garden plants. This taste repellent will discourage them.
What About Baby Squirrels? What Do Baby Squirrels Eat?
Infant squirrels rely on their mother’s milk for 100% of their diet. This infancy period can last as long as six weeks. After they reach maturity, they can eat solid foods independent of their mother.
What do baby squirrels eat? One thing: milk.
It is difficult to feed baby squirrels without the mother present. On the whole, baby squirrels remain in their nest for the entirety of their infancy. If you find a baby squirrel outside of its nest, it could mean that the mother has left or died. Contact your local animal control for more information about caring for infant squirrels on your own.
Here’s a fun video showing what it’s like raising baby squirrels found in the wild.
Is There Anything Squirrels Shouldn’t Eat?
Squirrels require diets high in protein and fats–foods that provide long-term energy. Carbohydrates and starchy foods that make up the majority of human diets are not ideal for squirrels. You can feed a squirrel a dollop of ice cream, and they will devour it, but you would be compromising their health by doing so.
It’s important to know what foods to avoid feeding squirrels, even though they can and will eat almost anything. Here are some foods to avoid feeding your squirrels:
- Peanuts (peanuts are actually legumes, a high-carb food)
- Sunflower seeds
- Human food like chips, bread, or cookies
- Squirrel feed mixes like Critter Crunch, high in corn and peanuts
- Food that develops mold quickly
- Garbage and composted foods
Here’s an excellent tip for answering the question, “can I feed this to squirrels?” If it has lots of unrefined starches and sugars (excluding fruit), it’s better not to feed it to them. Squirrels generally keep a diet very much like our Keto diet or Paleo diet.
It’s hard not to like squirrels. It’s even harder not to smile when we watch them munching away at food in the wild. But their omnivorous diet will get them into trouble if you feed them the wrong foods for their diet. Squirrels can easily eat too much of the wrong thing a become overweight. I mean, for a squirrel.
If you’re still contemplating what squirrels eat, just remember to feed them high-protein, high-fat foods with unrefined sugars. Stick to the foods we mentioned above, and your local squirrel population will be happy and in tip-top shape all year round.
You might also like my article about what it might be like to raise and keep an owl. Are they a protected species? Do they make good pets? Learn about owning an owl here.