What Do Backyard Squirrels Eat?

Pet Food


December 20, 2021

If you want to encourage the presence of squirrels in your backyard, there are quite a few ways that you can go about doing so. Some people find that having multiple feeders and feeders designed for squirrels helps to reduce competition at the bird feeder.

Other people want to be able to make specially designed squirrel food to add to these feeders to further encourage the squirrels to stay in your yard. If you are interested in making food for squirrels, the first thing you will need to do is have a firm understanding of what squirrels would eat in the wild.

What Kind of Diet Do Squirrels Have?

Most people think of squirrels as being herbivores, more specifically, frugivores, which are animals that feast solely on fruits, roots, seeds, and nuts. However, the truth is that among all the species of squirrel in the world, squirrels are decidedly omnivorous. This means that squirrels need to make use of both animal and plant matter to be fully nourished.

With that being said, it is true that squirrels are preferential to having a diet closer to resembling herbivores. They prefer nuts, seeds, and plants to meats and other proteins, though they will hunt down animal protein when faced with hunger and malnutrition. The amount of plant matter compared to animal matter that a squirrel will want to eat is somewhat dependent on the species of squirrel as well.

Some squirrels, such as squirrel species local to tropical areas of the world, have a considerably different diet than the standard grey squirrel that people are used to. Tropical squirrels eat almost exclusively bugs, making them insectivores. Other squirrels, particularly those that are closer to urban areas, will eat a lot of manufactured food meant for people, rather than nuts and seeds. It all depends on what catches the eye of the opportunistic feeder.

What Does Opportunistic Mean?

When it comes to the diet of animals, there is a type of animal that is well-known across the animal kingdom. These animals are known as opportunistic feeders, and squirrels fall firmly into this category.

An opportunistic feeder is one that will eat from any source that is available to it, rather than favoring one source over another or only sticking to one source of food. If a squirrel finds a fresh carcass in the winter and is hungry, it will consume the carcass rather than sticking to nuts and seeds. If someone offers a squirrel some peanuts, the squirrel will consume those rather than insects.

For animals, opportunistic feeding is a sign that the animal’s behavior is flexible enough to accommodate a change in routine. It also means that squirrels will eat whatever they can get their hands on, rather than prioritizing certain spots over others. This matters a fair bit when it comes to feeding them via a squirrel feeder.

What Foods Do Squirrels Eat?

So, now that you know the type of diet that squirrels have and their feeding style, you may be curious to know what squirrels eat. What squirrels eat in the wild is slightly different than what to feed squirrels in backyard, as this will be what squirrels typically have access to rather than what is being provided for the squirrel in that very moment.

In the wild, squirrels will prefer to eat herbivore foods. These include plants, seeds, nuts, pinecones, fruits, fungi, and various types of green vegetation. Some squirrels, especially hungry squirrels, will go after animal proteins in the form of fresh carcasses, smaller rodents, small birds, eggs, and insects. Some squirrels will also consume fresh carcasses, though this is rare.

The exact priority that squirrels place on these foods depends heavily on the location of the squirrel, the species of the squirrel, and what is the most readily available, so the exact order and items on this list can vary from country to country and from squirrel to squirrel.

Do Squirrels Have a Preference for Certain Foods?

Despite the fact that squirrels are opportunistic feeders, many squirrels will actually show a preference for what they want to eat. As mentioned earlier, this is highly dependent on circumstances and species. Most squirrels that live in your backyard will prefer nuts, seeds, and similar sources of protein.

It may be worth researching the types of squirrels that frequent your area. You may be able to find more species-specific information regarding foods that the squirrels near you enjoy, as the habitat and readily available food sources make quite the difference in a squirrel’s preferential diet.

Finding the Perfect Foods to Feed Your Backyard Squirrels

With all of this being said, there will come a time in your life when you may want to feed the squirrels in your yard. There are two ways you can do this. The first way is to fill the squirrel feeders with loose food that the squirrels may enjoy. These include nuts, seeds, oats, and some vegetables that will not leave mold in the feeder.

The second method is to create food resembling bird suet that is designed specifically for squirrels. There are many recipes out there to choose from, but they will contain very similar ingredients, such as crunchy peanut butter, oats, corn meal, lard, flour, peanuts, and corn kernels. You then mix all of these ingredients together until it has a relatively even consistency, put it into a square pan, and then set it in the fridge or freezer to harden.

Be mindful that when you are creating the suet that you are not using ingredients that are harmful to squirrels. There are many misconceptions out there about foods squirrels can or cannot eat, and if you are planning on feeding your backyard visitors, you should be aware of this.

Foods That Squirrels Should Not Eat

With squirrels eating much the same foods as birds do, often stealing directly from bird feeders, people believe that squirrels can eat the same things as birds. While most bird food will not be outright lethal to a squirrel, many components of bird food are empty nutrients for squirrels and there are better foods to feed it. One of the best examples of this is with sunflower seeds.

In addition to sunflower seeds, you will want to avoid peanuts (peanut butter is okay), most human-focused junk food, dried corn, pet foods, cashews, particularly salty, starchy, and sugary foods, and surprisingly acorns. These are all foods that squirrels are only seen eating when the squirrels do not have any other options for food. They should not be willfully fed to the squirrels.

The Takeaway

If you are planning to feed the squirrels in your backyard, it is important for you to have a good sense of what they can and cannot eat. As a bottom line, squirrels are opportunistic omnivores that often have a preference for herbivore and fungivore foods.

However, this is highly dependent on the squirrel’s environment, species, and overall health. If you want to make food for your squirrel to eat, you will want to include foods that are high in protein, while avoiding the foods that squirrels should not be eating. Many squirrels appreciate various nuts (excluding cashews and peanuts), seeds (excluding sunflower seeds), vegetables, and the occasional fruit. By keeping this in mind, you can bring all the squirrels to your backyard.