Wondering what to feed squirrels in your backyard? Learn what safe and healthy options the experts recommend to feed backyard squirrels.
What to Feed Backyard Squirrels
Watching squirrels chase each other around trees and through the yard is one of the most entertaining events to witness from the comfort of your back porch or even through a window. If you want to show your appreciation or ensure the squirrels stay in your yard, you may consider offering them a permanent food source.
You should feed squirrels nuts, fruits, and vegetables that often grow locally in your area.
By providing foods that grow locally, you will mimic the squirrels’ natural diet as closely as possible.
This article will answer all your questions about the foods squirrels love and how you can meet squirrel needs nutritionally without negatively impacting their natural cycles or the environment.
Learn how to create a symbiotic relationship where you help keep squirrels well-fed, and they remain in your backyard, entertaining you, and helping to sustain plant life in your area.
What do Squirrels Like to Eat the Most?
It is no secret that squirrels love nuts and seeds.
If you see them running around your backyard, racing to the top of the tree, or vying for the best-fallen acorns in the yard, it is likely because you have one or more trees growing that produce and drop nuts and seeds.
Squirrels love nuts and seeds because they are nutritious and offer the hard surface their teeth need to remain healthy.
Known as little gardeners, squirrels will chew away the hard outer shell of seeds and bury them for safekeeping.
Luckily (for us, unluckily for them), they often forget where they have buried seeds, and the forgotten seeds can then germinate and grow.
By chewing the exterior shells apart and inadvertently planting seeds, they play an important role in your local ecological system.
The hard work they put into feeding themselves helps to ensure the plant life they enjoy feasting on grows prolifically in their habitats. But, nuts and seeds are not the only favorites foods of squirrels. Squirrels are also big fans of many types of fruits and vegetables.
Fresh Food to Feed Squirrels
Rather than purchase a squirrel feeder, the best way to feed squirrels is to grow the trees and plants that produce squirrels’ favorite foods.
This is because although they live in our neighborhoods and backyards, squirrels are still wild animals. Wild squirrels are highly capable of foraging for food provided in their local environments.
Squirrels will eat fresh produce whole, leaving the seeds behind either in their leftovers or in their droppings.
Again, spreading the plant life and ensuring their food sources continue to grow and produce. As natural gardeners, squirrels gain the most nutritious meals from these foods in their raw form, straight off the vine or tree.
Some of the best nuts, fruits, and vegetables for squirrels are:
If you include even a couple of these plants in your backyard garden, you will be sure to see your squirrel friends running all around your backyard for years to come.
By opting for the garden-style food source rather than a squirrel feeder, you will more positively impact the environment as well.
You will provide a food source that will last through many seasons for a large variety of wild animals and insects in your backyard.
These animals will add to your plant life by spreading in new seeds and wildlife, keeping a prolific cycle of life growing over the years. You will likely help generations of squirrels live out happy, healthy lives.
What Food is Poisonous to Squirrels?
Not all foods, even food found naturally in your area, are good for squirrels to eat.
Like any animal, some foods that humans find tolerable or even favor can be poisonous to squirrels. Avoid offering the following foods to squirrels as they can cause harm to the animals:
- Sunflower seeds
- Pine Nuts
- Raw Peanuts
- Dried Fruits
- Bell Peppers
- White Potatoes
- Fresh Corn
If you have plants that grow these foods on your property, do not worry.
A squirrel’s natural instincts will protect them from eating these foods directly from the source. Their noses and taste buds will trigger warning signals that all might not be well with the food they are about to eat.
These instincts protect them against all sorts of dangerous food sources.
However, foods used in a feeder or left out as scraps in the yard can be a source of danger for your furry neighbors. Squirrels tend to eat all the foods that are made easily available. They are pretty lazy if given the opportunity. A lazy or ravenous squirrel may not be able to discern the foods that might be dangerous amongst the feeder fare.
If foods are cooked and left out for scraps, the change in appearance or smell due to cooking may mask the potential danger that could be caused by the squirrel consuming the food. Their instincts may not pick up the subtle differences, or if dangerous foods are baked into a new form, a squirrel will likely not recognize the danger.
If you choose to set up a squirrel feeder or leave scraps out in your yard, be extra cautious about the food you offer. You may unintentionally cause your squirrel friends to become sick or worse if the wrong foods are consumed. You want to do a good deed by feeding squirrels, so be conscious of the foods you are using to fill up your squirrel feeder or the scraps you leave out in the yard to avoid any accidental poisoning.
Do Squirrels Eat Carrots?
Like their long-eared, hoppy, backyard companions, squirrels are also fond of carrots and other root vegetables.
The orange root part of the carrot that humans eat grows underground with a grassy-like stalk reaching above the surface. Because of this growth pattern, squirrels are not always drawn to carrots immediately. They are not grazers who eat grass like other rodent creatures.
If you have a carrot patch in your backyard, it is unlikely that squirrels will ruin your crop because it will not be their natural inclination to start digging up the roots.
However, if you leave full carrots out in your backyard, especially with other squirrel favorites like apples and walnuts, then your squirrels will feast on the crunchy treats.
Carrots also provide a nice chewing activity to keep squirrels’ incisors in check. Squirrels have teeth that keep growing throughout their lifetime. If they do not continually chew and wear down their teeth, then eventually, their teeth will outgrow their mouths and will cause serious harm or incapacitate the squirrel.
Offering carrots will provide nourishment for squirrels and rabbits in your backyard alike. But, take care not to offer too many.
As discussed previously, over providing for squirrels or any wild animal can lead to an abundance of animals on your property and can be detrimental to the animals’ natural metabolic states.
What Do Baby Squirrels Eat?
For the first six weeks of life, baby squirrels should be nourished by their mother’s milk source.
If, for some reason, you become responsible for feeding a baby squirrel younger than six weeks old, a combination of Pedialyte and powdered puppy milk will provide the essential vitamins and nutrients the squirrel needs.
After six weeks of age, a baby squirrel can begin to eat the same diet as an adult squirrel but in smaller quantities.
By 12 weeks of age, a baby squirrel can be released back into the wild if it was being cared for by humans. Otherwise, wild squirrels will start to forage on their own and will leave their mother’s nest.
Baby squirrels are adorable, and the idea of raising one can be enticing. However, you should make all efforts to ensure that baby squirrels are cared for by their mothers. Watch the nest closely, for a full day or more, before assuming that squirrels have been abandoned or orphaned. Mother squirrels provide the very best nutrition for their babies. The mother squirrels also teach their babies invaluable lessons and skills they will need to survive on their own.
If, for some reason, you believe a baby squirrel to have been orphaned, it is best to contact an animal rescue service to care for the animal. These services will offer the most appropriate nutrients and feeding routines for the squirrel. They will also have the knowledge and skills required to prepare the baby squirrel for eventual release into a proper environment.
What Do You Feed Squirrels in the Winter?
Squirrels do not hibernate for the winter.
In fact, they are often more active than ever as their food sources are limited while they still require a set daily calorie intake. Wild squirrels will look for foods with high-fat contents, namely nuts, to keep them nourished through the winter.
If nuts and other high-fat items are low in quantity, wild squirrels will also eat insects, bugs, mushrooms, and even animal bones during the winter.
The winter does not change what a squirrel wants to eat; it just limits what is available to eat. These insects and mushrooms are not squirrels preferred meals, so they will more than appreciate any food you leave out for them.
Because of this limited availability, purposefully feeding squirrels in the winter is one of the best times you can help support a squirrel’s needs. Offering the best nuts for squirrels, particularly those high in fat, like walnuts and peanuts, in squirrel feeders will help ensure your squirrel buddies are able to maintain the body fat they need to withstand the cold weather and to outlast any limited food days.
In the winter months, you may find that other animals, like birds, are raiding your squirrel feeders. You may consider installing a bird proof feeder, especially in the winter months, and fill it with food specifically meant for squirrels. This will ensure your backyard squirrels can access the nutritious resources they need to make it through the winter.
If you feel on the fence about whether or not you should feed squirrels, offering them food in the winter months offers a nice compromise. You will provide food for the squirrels when they in need of it most but will be unlikely to provide an abundance of food that will disrupt their natural eating habits during the rest of the year.
Why Not Feed Squirrels?
Many people find the small critters to be a nuisance. They will eat whatever is available to them, including seeds from bird feeders and garden-fresh produce that was meant for your dinner.
They also have an incessant need to chew and will chew on everything from nuts to wooden decks to playsets.
Beyond not wanting them in your yard, there are some moral and ethical reasons for not feeding squirrels as well. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends not feeding squirrels because it can disrupt their natural diet and have ecological impacts in your local area.
If squirrels are fed exclusively from squirrel feeders and other scraps left to them by humans, they will not be inclined to forage on their natural foods.
Not only will their diets be altered, perhaps negatively, but plant life will also suffer as the natural seed spreaders will not tend to their accidental gardens.
There is also such a thing as too many squirrels.
If there is an abundance of food available on your property, you will draw squirrels from all over the neighborhood. This increases the likelihood that you will incur damage to your property from the numerous scratchy nails and teeth scurrying over.
Having a large number of squirrels in a small area also increases the potential for the spread disease and infections.
Feeding squirrels should be done with proper precautions and considerations as the situation can quickly get out of hand if one is not thoughtful in their feeding strategies.
If you want to feed the squirrels in your backyard, the best foods to offer are nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Specifically, squirrels love walnuts, almonds, apples, carrots, and other foods that grow locally in your area.