What to feed squirrels?

29th Apr 2021

Squirrel on Branch

Admit it, you love the pesky little things, don’t you? Sure, you spend extra time fortifying bird feeders to keep the squirrels out, and you quietly curse them out when you see how they’ve helped themselves to your garden or compost piles, but deep down you like having them around.

The annoying parts, though, are of course because as with other wild animals, their natural habitats have been encroached on, and since they don’t have access to the internet or honestly, really even care about property deeds, your garden and bird feeders are just sources of nutrition for them.

So why not give back? And maybe they’ll stop eating your plants. But the question is "What to Feed Squirrels?"

Should we feed squirrels?

People often feed squirrels thinking sharing their food with them is helpful. But none of that is good for them. And it’s important to remember that. They’ll eat what is available, but it’s our responsibility to make sure what’s available to them is good for them. (Or they’ll just keep taking it from our gardens and bird feeders!)

Even the USDA has put out a statement that we shouldn’t feed squirrels (and other wildlife) mainly because we may not be giving them the right food for their systems.

But it’s human nature to provide for them, especially since we’ve been the ones taking their natural habitats. So if you are going to feed squirrels, please be responsible and feed them food that’s appropriate for their needs and health. Malnourished squirrels can lead to an increase in sickness, which can spread to other squirrels and to other animals. So it’s important to provide healthy foods for them to keep all of us safe. 

Squirrel in the Park

What and how NOT to feed squirrels?

  • Don’t give them free access to Gardens, Compost, Left overs, Junk food, etc. Make sure your garbage cans, compost piles and such are secured.
  • Bird food and seeds. Take precautions and create set ups for wild birds to freely and easily get the seeds you put out for them and not have the feeders taken over by squirrels. Squirrels can also eat birds eggs, so if you find a nest, make sure it is safe and free from critter access.
  • Feed them from their own space, so they come to know that’s theirs and further keep them away from the birds.
  • Provide access to proper foods and to clean water.
  • Do not hand feed squirrels. Sure, it’s cute and they look cuddly, but they are wild animals. Have a separate feeding area or apparatus for them.

What should we feed squirrels ?

Providing access to a healthy diet for squirrels is important for all of us. The best foods for them are nuts, fruits, vegetables, and seeds. But not all nuts!

Squirrels love nuts. (Always good to have something in common with another species).

The best way to provide nuts for them is to have naturally growing nut trees in your yard. That is the best scenario because it allows for them to continue to learn their foraging habits and maintain independence from humans. But if you’re going to offer feeders for them, you should be aware of which nuts are best for them.

Squirrel Eating on Feeder

The Basics

  • Nuts in shells are best. It encourages them to fend for themselves and allows them to store them. We know that they gather and store nuts for the winter, but they are also opportunists, hunter gathers, so they will find a supply and take what they can to store for when they need it.
  • Plain Nuts. Don’t offer salted or roasted nuts. These have ingredients that can be harmful to them and their bodies and systems cannot process. Any nuts offered to squirrels should be in their natural state.
  • Dried Fruits. Squirrels should not be given dried fruits as the digestion for those are more complicated than their systems are designed for, and they also lack the water content, by design. If possible, provide fresh fruits.
  • Seeds. Most seeds are fine for squirrels, and the best ones are pumpkin seeds. Be aware, though, avoid offering sunflower seeds.

Squirrels can be a blessing or a curse in our lives, whether they’re scavenging for food in our gardens, eating from our garbage, or taking over the bird feeders we set out. But no one can deny they’re adorable. And they’re part of our environment. While it is advised against feeding them, more are coming into our immediate vicinity because of the destruction of their natural habitats. So we may feel the need to feed them. When doing so it’s important to consider THEM, and not just offer scraps. We want to be responsible and ethical partners in our environment, so it’s best to feed them the foods that will keep them healthy, and … away from our gardens and bird feeders.

Additional Resources