Squirrels in Your Garden? What Do Squirrels Like To Eat?
There are many varieties of squirrels found across America, including red squirrels, ground squirrels, grey squirrels, fox squirrels, flying squirrels, black squirrels, striped squirrels, and many more. Squirrels are part of the Sciuridae family of mammals, closely related to chipmunks, prairie dogs, and woodchucks. Got Squirrels in Your Garden? What Do Squirrels Like To Eat?
Well, squirrels just happen to eat a lot of things. Squirrels are not picky eaters. If you have spent any time observing the eating habits of common squirrels, this is clear. Squirrels have a natural appetite for many native fruits, flowers, veggies, fungi, nuts, tree, plants and insects to their habitat. But their are not many boundaries in relation to the squirrels dining habits. They will curiously try just about anything, and have in fact become fond of many foods that they probably should not be eating, such as kids’ favorite sugary snacks and cereals. Squirrels are open-minded when it comes to food. Having expanded their palates, they’ve picked up some strange new eating habits as humans and squirrels have come to share more and more space together. In addition to the usual suspects: acorns, pecans, berries, and veggies, squirrels are accepting of food remnants discarded in parks, or anywhere for that matter. Things such as sandwiches, old lunch meat, burger scraps, are just a few things squirrels may nibble on. With the tenacity to purloin treats meant for other animals, such as Fido’s dog food, Kitty-Cat’s kibble, and that bird seed you put out for, well, the birds, squirrels seem to get more than their fair share. Below, you will find a smorgasbord of snacks that squirrels enjoy eating:
What Do Squirrels Eat?
Squirrels eat fruit with enthusiasm. If you happen to live near a fruit tree, or fruit bushes and vines, you’ve most likely noticed squirrels happily munching and hoarding these delicious goodies for themselves. Squirrels can climb fruit trees with ease to snatch their fruits. Squirrels consume the harvest from a variety of fruiting trees, including but not limited to pears, grapes, apples, kiwi, avocados, peaches, nectarines, figs, plums, mangoes, and citrus. Squirrels will also eat any berries they can get their hands on such as strawberries, blackberries, blue berries, raspberries, mulberries, and more. Squirrels also love bananas, watermelons, cantaloupe (any melon, in general), and cherries! The benefit of eating fruit for squirrels is that it gives them a major sugar-boost and provides lots of energy to keep scrambling around and foraging for more goodies.
Squirrels eat a variety of vegetables, and gardeners know this all too well. If a squirrels happens upon any leafy green such as lettuce, chard, kale, spinach, or arugula, they will chow down. Squirrels will also eat other delicious veggies such as tomatoes, radishes, corn, squash, beans, corn, peas, root vegetables, greens (such as beet greens and the greens of any root vegetables), okra, eggplant, brusssell sprouts, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, celery, cauliflower, cabbage, leeks–basically anything they can get their hungry little paws on!
Many backyard squirrel-watchers feed cereal to squirrels. Squirrels naturally love the grains and nuts incorporated into most cereals. Chex, Cheerios, Cap’n Crunch, shredded wheat, corn flakes, grape nuts–squirrels devour these tasty treats. An added perk to many cereals for squirrels is that they’re typically loaded with sugar, which gives the squirrel a boost of energy to keep busy finding more food to eat and stash away for later. Unnaturally sugary cereals aren’t exactly Mother Nature’s idea of a perfect squirrel snack, but the squirrel has a rather devil-may-care attitude towards what it puts in its bottomless belly.
Of course, a squirrel wouldn’t normally come across cheese in a natural setting, but with humans leaving all sorts of savory treats behind when eating outdoors, and when tossing kitchen scraps, squirrels have developed a keen taste for cheese. Squirrels aren’t picky about cheese. They’ll busily munch away on chunks of cheddar, swiss, provolone, mozzarella, and anything else that they come across. Sure, they’ll even eat you cheesy pizza scraps if it’s available! Squirrels aren’t picky about how they consume their cheese either, whether it’s in a discarded grilled cheese sandwich, left-over cheese and cracker sandwiches, or whether it’s simply a hunk of slightly moldy cheese discarded in a residential compost pile. A good piece of cheese can give a squirrel an extra bit of fat to store for leaner times, such as during the winter months.
Squirrels are absolutely fanatical about nuts. Nuts about nuts, if you will! If you live near a nut tree, chances are good that you can quickly spot a busy squirrel, bustling around in the branches, with a nut or two–or more–that it will store for later. If you’re hoping to eat those nuts yourself, you may resent the squirrel’s busy, greedy habits. In this case, you may need to install something to deter the squirrel from hoarding your nut harvest, such as a metal sheet wrapped around the tree trunk that will keep the squirrel from being able to climb it. On the flip side, the squirrel’s activity can be good for the tree species, as squirrels help spread seeds far and wide, helping to ensure the chances of certain tree species’ growth and survival. Nuts may be one of squirrels most naturally desired foods. Squirrels will eat nuts and will also stash them away in caches for eating later on. As far as one of their favorite foods go, what do squirrels eat? Squirrels enthusiastically collect and eat pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, acorns, cashews, chestnuts, hickory nuts, pine nuts out of pine cones, and macadamia nuts. Nuts are an optimal source of fat and protein for all types of squirrels.
Most backyard bird-watchers have a plentiful supply of birdseed available in their yards for birds, of course. But another critter satisfied by a hearty meal of birdseed is the common squirrel. Even when birds are present, a squirrel will not hesitate to get in on the birdseed action and will stuff their bellies with this readily available snack that humans are all to happy to provide. Of course, birdseed contains a mixture of some of squirrels favorite edibles, such as seeds, grains, and nuts.
If fruits and nuts aren’t readily available, a squirrel will resort to eating small insects to satisfy their need for protein. Some insects devoured by squirrels include caterpillars, larvae, winged bugs, grasshoppers, injured butterflies, and crickets, to name a few.
Squirrels are foragers, and love foraging for mushrooms. In more natural environments, such as forests, squirrels can find a variety of great fungi depending on climate. Some favorite fungi include acorn truffles, truffles, oyster mushrooms, and more. In fact, squirrels may sometimes leave mushrooms and fungi out to dry in order to eat it at a later period. Squirrels will also elect to eat lichen, which is the smaller fungi that tends to grow in moist areas on the bark of many, especially mature, trees.
When other food sources are hard to find, a squirrel may have to take what it can get. This sometimes includes stealing eggs from other animals, or even eggs from your chicken coop. When necessary, squirrels may prey on robin eggs, blackbird eggs, and more. Also when necessary, squirrels will not short stop of eating hatchlings, young chicks, baby birds, and the carcasses of unfortunate chicks that have fallen from their nests.
Squirrels will forage for and eat roots, leaves, grass, plants stalks, and anything else with sufficient nutritional value to them. Squirrels tend to go for the most tender and/or young stalks and branches of plants, soft twigs, and supple bark. Soft tips of new growth, newly unfurled leaves, sprouts, and succulent flower buds are also sure to catch the attention of a passing squirrel who is scouring the land for a food opportunity. Mentioned above was the squirrel species’ love of nuts and bird seed, so naturally, they also love to eat seeds from plants, such as sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, safflower seeds, poppy seeds, and any other available seeds. Also, if it’s any surprise at this point, squirrels will eat your prized poppy blossoms, they’ll chomp you hibiscus blooms, the petals of your passionflower, and the plant bulbs that you were hoping would break ground in the spring.
Dog and Cat Food
Being the omnivorous scavengers that they are, squirrels have picked up a few strange eating habits along the way and will not hesitate to pack away a few dozen pieces of dog or cat kibble, and will most likely come back for more, if they find an established spot where it’s readily available. The hungry, opportunistic squirrel may even be so bold as to snack on wet cat food, or canned dog food although it is not good for them.
Scraps and Waste
Next time you take out the garbage, or leave the remnants of your weekend picnic in the garbage can at the park, you might keep in mind that in addition to other scavengers, a hungry squirrel might be rooting around in there later, sampling you frosted birthday cake scraps, or tossed sandwich crusts. It’s undeniable that squirrels are great at recycling and composting our sometimes excessive food waste. On the other hand, certain processed, sugary, and unnatural foods can be detrimental to the squirrels digestion and health.
Is There Anything They Don’t Eat?
At this point, you may wonder if there is anything that squirrels won’t eat! Is nothing safe, nothing sacred? Fortunately, there are a few things that they simply do not prefer. Raw onions, for example, and raw garlic. They certainly don’t like hot peppers–such as jalapeños, serrano peppers, anaheim peppers, these spicy varieties growing from bushes are logically passed over. In fact, pepper spray is widely used as a deterrent in gardens to keep squirrels from eating prized vegetables and fruit. Garlic spray is also used as a deterrent for hungry, brazen squirrels. Dogs and cats with a tendency to hunt will also keep at least a portion of squirrels at bay as well. In addition to what they don’t like, there are also things that squirrels shouldn’t eat; for example, dairy products, chocolate, junk food, candy, highly processed foods they may find in trash cans, and even many of the foods that they love such as sugary cereals would not normally be eaten by a squirrel in a perfect world. However, a squirrel is a busy animal, and because it is so busy, plenty of fuel is a must. Squirrels are the ultimate foodies, enjoying a healthy serving of fruits and veggies, nuts, and grains when available, and getting by on more questionable eats when necessary. Especially when times are rough, the hungry squirrel is not about to snub his nose at that stale pizza crust, or discarded avocado skin. So, next time you see a busy critter hustling around, in the city, or in the garden, and you wonder what do squirrels eat, exactly? Well, just about anything.