What to Feed Squirrels

Are your customers looking to keep a squirrel away from their bird feeders? Aside from investing in squirrel-resistant bird feeders, one of the simplest options is to have a feeder specifically dedicated to squirrels!

This quick guide aims to answer the most common questions your customers will have about feeding squirrels, including making sure they are eating the proper food according to their nutritional needs.

What are Squirrels' Favorite Foods?

A large portion of the squirrel diet revolves around plants, they also eat some animal-based material. For example, the Eastern Gray Squirrel will also eat insects, amphibians, small mammals, bird eggs, young bird nestlings and even bones.

Still, plant-based material makes up most of a squirrel’s diet. In a natural setting, squirrels eat nuts, seeds, tree flowers and tree buds from a variety of trees including butternut, cedar, dogwood, elm, hackberry, hemlock, hickory, maple, mulberry, pine and spruce. They also snack on mushrooms and fungi from time to time.

When humans and squirrels interact, additional food enters the squirrel diet. Some of this additional material is good for them, since it’s just more of their natural foods. Other favorites aren’t exactly natural, but the squirrels love them anyway. These additional foods include peanuts, peanut butter, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, grapes, corn, squash, zucchini, pumpkin, strawberries, carrots, apples, sunflower seeds and even snack items, such as Oreo cookies.

What to Feed Squirrels

Squirrels eagerly eat peanuts and corn. Unfortunately, neither of these foods are ideal for squirrel health. Despite the fact that they can be good for birds, corn and peanuts fail to provide a real nutritional benefit for squirrels. Still, peanuts and corn are fine in small amounts or as part of a more varied diet.

What’s the absolute best food for squirrels? Nuts still in their shells! In particular, a variety of walnuts, hickory nuts, white oak acorns, beechnuts make for a great squirrel diet.

Why should your customers only provide in-the-shell nuts to squirrels? Doing so gives the squirrel something constructive to gnaw, a habit that’s vital to keep their teeth healthy. It’s definitely better to have them gnawing a nut shell rather than your customers’ homes!

Of course, bird seed can double as squirrel food – black oil sunflower seeds and nut-based blends, for example, will be big hits for the squirrels in your yard. These make for a great backup energy source when your customers can’t provide them with in-the-shell nuts.

SQUIRREL FEEDING GUIDE
Food Quality Information
Acorn, Red Oak (high tannin) Okay High tannin nuts are usually eaten only in desperate times.
Acorn, White Oak (low tannin) Excellent Preferred over high tannin acorns.
Beechnut Excellent Leave in shell to promote gnawing.
Bread Poor Do not feed.
Butternut Excellent Leave in shell to promote gnawing.
Corn Okay Feed in small amounts only. Corn is a squirrel favorite, but fails to offer quality nutrition.
Fruits (Apple, cantaloupe, grapes, strawberries, watermelon) Excellent Offer small quantities of non-citrus fruit.
Hazelnuts Excellent Leave in shell to promote gnawing.
Human junk food (Candy, chocolate, chips) Poor Poor nutritional value.
Hickory Nuts Excellent A favorite for squirrels. Leave in shell to promote gnawing.
Niger/Nyjer® Seeds Poor Squirrels do not like niger. Do not feed.
Peanut Butter Okay A favorite, but should only be provided in moderation.
Peanuts, Raw Dangerous Raw peanuts may contain a fungus that can hurt squirrels.
Peanuts, Roasted Okay Unsalted and only in small amounts.
Pecans Excellent Shelled or unshelled are fine.
Pistachio Okay White pistachios only. Do not give them red pistachios.
Pumpkins and Pumpkin Seeds Okay Feel free to leave your Jack O’Lantern “guts” for squirrels. They will often chew on the pumpkin shell too.
Sunflower seeds Okay Although squirrels love sunflower seeds, provide them in small amounts only.
Vegetables (Broccoli, carrots, peas, yellow squash, zucchini) Excellent Generally an excellent source of nutrition.
Walnut, Black or American Excellent Leave in shell to promote gnawing.
Water Excellent Squirrels need water daily. Keep it fresh and unfrozen.

What Can I Use to Feed Squirrels?

The NO/NO line of feeders are particularly useful as dual bird and squirrel feeders. For one thing, these feeders can’t be chewed through by a squirrel. The metal-mesh design in NO/NO feeders also keeps a squirrel from emptying the feeder too quickly.

Simple hopper feeders with wide seed trays also give a squirrel good access to food inside. Some even come with suet-cake bins to provide further nutrients.

To help a squirrel find and use a bait feeder, advise your customers to:

  • Keep a squirrel friendly feeder close to a tree.
  • Make it easy for the squirrel to climb to the bait feeder.
  • Don’t use a feeder that has a baffle or weight-activated shut-off.
  • Pick foods that squirrels will love.

Other options feeding options for squirrels include installing a seed table or simply scattering their favorite treats in a few choice areas near regular bird feeders.

Is it Legal to Feed Squirrels?

A number of states and municipalities have laws that make it illegal to intentionally feed squirrels (and many other wild animals). The reason for these measures is to keep wildlife from becoming dependent on humans. These laws also try to protect people from being bitten or otherwise attacked by an overzealous critter. Finally, specific rules against feeding squirrels are aimed at keep the squirrel population in check.

With that in mind, tell your customers to check the specific rules for their state and municipality. Some areas may limit feeding squirrels on public land, but not on privately owned property. Further conversations with a local game officer may help a homeowner understand how such a law applies to them.

Also remind them that if squirrels become too tame and too use to a human presence, they can become nuisances. Without their natural fear of people as a potential predators, then they’re less likely to think twice before invading human spaces.

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