what do squirrels eat

What Do Squirrels Eat? A Curiosity Guide to Nature’s Most Versatile Foragers

Perched on a lofty tree branch or scurrying across your backyard, squirrels are ubiquitous fixtures of the natural world. Often overlooked, these agile acrobats play a crucial role in the ecosystem. Have you ever wondered what fuels their ceaseless motion or sustains them through harsh winters? Join us on a fascinating foray into the dietary habits of these charming creatures, as we explore the world of squirrels and their complex relationship with food.

The Seasons of Squirrel Diets

Just as the world around us changes with the seasons, so too does the diet of the humble squirrel. In spring, a squirrel’s diet brims with a variety of food items, often found in bloom or freshly sprouted. Come summer, the menu expands with the arrival of fruits, berries, and a steady stream of insects. But it’s in autumn that squirrels reach their zenith, as they voraciously gather nuts and seeds to tide them over the winter. When the world is blanketed in snow, they rely on the larders they’ve diligently stocked away — a testament to their foresight and preparation.

Nuts and Seeds: The Cornerstones of a Squirrel’s Diet

Much is made of squirrels’ affinity for nuts, and with good reason. Nuts, rich in fats and proteins, are a mainstay for these energetic omnivores. Acorns, walnuts, hazelnuts, and numerous others find their way into squirrels’ diets. These compact powerhouses serve as a vital energy reserve and are principal to the survival strategy of squirrels.

Seeds are equally important and significantly contribute to a squirrel’s nutrition. They are often easier to access and handle than nuts, which makes them a valuable source of sustenance throughout the year. Whether gathered from sunflowers in a garden or cedars in a forest, seeds are a dietary element that squirrels take full advantage of, often leaving remnants that sprout the following season.

Fruits and Vegetables: A Squirrel’s Sweet Tooth

While not their primary food source, squirrels certainly enjoy their share of fresh fruits. Berries, apples, and pears are relished when available. However, it’s essential to note that fruits are highly seasonal and can vary greatly in availability. This scarcity likely prompts squirrels to consume fruits opportunistically, making them more of a treat than a staple.

Similarly, vegetables such as corn and pumpkin can attract squirrels, who, interestingly, are known to practice a form of crop rotation. In other words, in areas where food is abundant, they might not harvest the same crop from the same location each time, a behavior that prevents overgrazing and supports sustainable food sources.

Insects and Fungi: The Hidden Portions of a Squirrel’s Plate

Squirrels are not discerning eaters. Insects, larvae, and fungi often find their way onto the squirrels’ menu. Nocturnal squirrels, like the flying squirrel, are more prone to dietary diversity than their diurnal cousins. They will scavenge for beetles, caterpillars, and other insects under the cover of darkness. Fungi, with their high protein content, are also important components of the squirrel’s diet. They help provide a balanced intake of nutrients and can be found alongside nuts and seeds in the squirrel’s winter caches.

Human Interaction and Squirrel Diets

Squirrels are opportunists in every sense and have adapted to the environments they share with humans. From raiding bird feeders to scavenging picnic leftovers, squirrels have learned to incorporate these unexpected, though often less nutritious, food sources into their diets. While these interactions can be delightful to witness, they are not without their drawbacks. Human food, rich in sugars and salts, can cause health issues for squirrels, just as it does for us. It’s important to be mindful of the impact of our consumable waste on the wildlife around us.

Nut Reforestation and the Squirrel’s Precarious Role

Squirrels are not merely consumers but are crucial in shaping their environment. Their gathering of nuts and seeds actually plays a significant role in reforestation and the preservation of plant diversity. In their quest for a meal, squirrels often bury a surplus of nuts, many of which are subsequently forgotten. These overlooked seeds can sprout into new trees, contributing to the health and vitality of woodlands.

However, modern developments and the fragmentation of woodland habitats have put strains on this process. With fewer mature trees available for nut-bearing, regeneration becomes less certain. This shift underscores the importance of preserving squirrel habitats and promoting ethical methods of coexistence.

Tips for Attracting Squirrels to Your Garden

If you’re a nature enthusiast looking to enjoy the company of these delightful creatures, there are steps you can take to make your garden a haven for squirrels. Planting trees and shrubs that produce nuts and fruits is a sure way to entice them. Offering feeders with squirrel-friendly foods, like unsalted nuts or sunflower seeds, could make your yard a regular hangout spot. Providing fresh water sources is also essential, especially in urban environments where natural sources may be scarce.

Insights into Squirrel Food Gathering and Storage

A squirrel’s life is much more than just gathering nuts for the winter. They employ a mix of techniques to forage, from ground-sweeping to tree shaking, and even combing through snow cover with their keen sense of smell. When it comes to storing food, squirrels are masters of their craft. Some species will bury nuts, while others use storehouses and even their own bodies to cache food. Their spatial memory is impressive, guiding them back to these caches, hence ensuring they survive the lean months when the earth is frozen and bleak.

The Benefits of Understanding Squirrel Diets

Understanding the intricacies of squirrel diets offers a window into the broader complexities of ecosystems. Squirrels are part of a web of life — one that includes plants, fungi, and a host of other animals. The knowledge of what they eat and how it affects their surroundings can deepen our appreciation for the natural world and encourage a more sustainable approach to cohabitation with wildlife.

Coexisting with Squirrels

Observing squirrels in their natural element can be a source of joy and a reminder of the beauty of the everyday natural world. Whether you’re watching them scamper up a tree or dig up a hidden cache of acorns, it’s important to appreciate their role in the ecosystem and the interconnectedness of all life. By being mindful of our actions and leaving space for these animals to thrive, we can enjoy their presence and foster a more harmonious relationship with nature.

FAQs About Squirrels and Their Diets

Q1: Can I feed squirrels in my backyard?

A1: Yes, you can feed squirrels, but it’s important to offer them foods that are part of their natural diet, such as unsalted nuts, seeds, and fruits. Avoid processed human foods, as they can be harmful.

Q2: Do squirrels eat birdseed?

A2: Squirrels are opportunistic feeders and will eat birdseed if it’s available. However, to keep both birds and squirrels happy, consider providing separate feeding areas for each.

Q3: Is it alright for squirrels to eat bread?

A3: Bread is not recommended for squirrels. It provides little nutritional value and can upset their stomachs. Stick to foods that are closer to their natural diet.

Q4: How do squirrels remember where they hide their food?

A4: Squirrels have an excellent spatial memory and use landmarks to help them remember the locations of their food caches.

Q5: Can feeding squirrels make them dependent on humans?

A5: While squirrels can become accustomed to being fed by humans, they are highly adaptable and typically do not become solely dependent on human-provided food.

Q6: What should I do if I find a squirrel eating harmful items?

A6: If a squirrel is eating harmful items, it’s best to remove those items if possible. Providing a nearby source of natural foods may also divert their interest towards healthier options.


Squirrels, with their energetic antics and resourceful spirits, are emblematic of the wild spaces they call home. Our understanding of their diets and foraging behavior serves as a window into their rich, complex lives. By educating ourselves and others about these charismatic creatures, we not only deepen our connection with the natural world but also play a part in preserving it for generations to come. Embrace the squirrel’s tale, and may it remind you to cherish the small miracles of nature that unfold around us every day.

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