Something to many people don’t realize is how amazing nature can be in a simple suburban backyard, if you simply stop to look. One member of the natural world that is often overlooked is the squirrel. These amazing creatures are everywhere, but feeding them can bring hours of entertainment right outside your windows. Let’s take a look at what to feed squirrels in a backyard feeder.
Squirrels are equal opportunity munchers – they’re happy to eat pretty much anything you leave out for them. But if you want to have healthy, happy squirrels hanging out in your yard, choosing foods that are good for them is the way to go. Nuts are their absolute favorites and a good variety gives them a range of nutritional value. Planting nut-producing trees is another way to provide food for them. You get some shade and they get a snack!
What Do Squirrels Eat
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Like people, squirrels will eat what they can, but nuts are a definite favorite. Tree nuts are the best, and chewing on nuts that are still in the shell keeps their teeth healthy. Walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, and hickory nuts are all top picks. Acorns are another popular option, but white oak acorns are better for them since they have fewer tannins.
Fruit trees are another popular hangout for hungry squirrels. Strawberries are another favorite, so if you plant some make sure to get a few extra plants for the squirrels. Given how much they like it in the wild, feeding the little guys fruit is a great way to go. They love it if you’ve already cut it up into bite size pieces!
If you’ve got a vegetable garden, you probably already know that unlike many a toddler, squirrels love to eat their veggies! Vegetables are a great source of nutrition and they like a lot of them. Giving them prepared veggies will help cut down on garden thefts, as well. They particularly enjoy squash like pumpkin or zucchini, but carrots, peas, and greens of all sorts are also good options.
While they mostly eat nuts and veggies, squirrels are omnivores and in the wild they often chew on bones to help them get vital minerals. They’ll also eat insects, eggs, and even the occasional small snake! Putting out some bones can help them get the minerals they need to prevent metabolic bone disease, or MBD. It’s a disease that causes their bones to weaken, so getting the minerals they need is very important.
Why Feed the Squirrels
One of the biggest and maybe most obvious benefits of feeding the squirrels is that it keeps them away from bird feeders. If you are feeding them different foods that are more to their liking, they are much less likely to raid the feeder full of seeds and grain. It also gives them an alternative to raiding your gardens when they get hungry.
Squirrel watching is super entertaining. They are expressive and quirky, and often show individual personality. Just like bird watching, you will get to know your regulars and they will put on a show for you.
Feeding squirrels will often help them survive the winter. They are scrappy little guys, but they need a lot of food to thrive – they eat around a pound of food every week, which is just about what they weigh! Feeding them can help them store up all that extra padding that they need for hibernation, and give them a reserve when that padding starts to get thin.
Should You Provide Water for Squirrels
Maybe eating all those nuts really drys out their little mouths, but squirrels like to drink a lot of water. In some areas, finding fresh clean water can be a real challenge for them, so it’s nice if you can leave some out for them.
Squirrels will often use bird baths as a source of water, and providing a nice clean one is a great option. Some squirrel feeders even come with a place for water. This is especially important in the winter, when water is even more difficult to find.
What Not to Feed Squirrels
One surprising food that you should not feed squirrels is raw peanuts. They can have a fungus that’s toxic for squirrels, so make sure that if you feed them peanuts they’ve been roasted. Peanuts also don’t have a lot of nutritional value for them, so don’t feed them too many of even the roasted kind. And if you’re giving them peanut butter – a popular choice – make sure that there’s not a lot of added sugar and salt. Too much sodium is bad for them.
There are some other surprises when it comes to bad squirrel food choices. Seeds and corn are like squirrel junk food, tasty and convenient – think of all those raided bird feeders – but not actually that good for them. They don’t have a lot of nutritional value for squirrels, so like people with potato chips, it’s better to offer them in moderation.
While squirrels like most fruits and aren’t too picky in general, they don’t seem to go for citrus fruit. If you’re giving them prepared fruit, it’s a good idea to stay away from the oranges and grapefruit.
Just like cookies and cake all day is bad for people, junk food and processed foods are bad for squirrels. When feeding squirrels in your backyard it’s better to stick with what’s natural and avoid processed people food.
How Safe Is It to Feed Squirrels
While they may look cute and their antics may be entertaining, it’s important to remember that squirrels are wild animals. Make sure you are feeding them from a distance, and don’t try to feed them from your hand. They can bite!
Also be careful when you are refilling their feeders. Like other wild animals, squirrels can carry parasites and certain kinds of fleas, so it’s best to avoid contact and let them enjoy your generosity from a distance.
Be a Good Neighbor
Some people do not see the charm of these little guys, and in fact really don’t like them. It’s a good idea to check out your neighbors opinions and avoid attracting them or keep feeders away from the property line if they are going to cause problems in the neighborhood.
Check your local ordinances, as well. In some areas it’s illegal to feed squirrels on purpose. If that’s the case in your location, planting squirrel-friendly trees and plants is a better choice than a squirrel feeder.
Squirrels are happy to eat whatever they can get, but if you want to feed the ones visiting your backyard make sure your choices are helpful not harmful. Hopefully, now you have a better idea of what to feed squirrels in backyard feeders so that they stay healthy and everybody is happy.
Feeding squirrels can be fun and reward you with a great deal of entertainment. If you can, make sure to get a feeder that includes space for water, keep it filled up with yummy nuts, fruit, and veg, and sit back and enjoy the show.