Some people don’t want squirrels in their garden full-stop. You might not be looking for how to attract squirrels, but rather how to keep squirrels away. Squirrels can chew away at flower bulbs, dig holes, and strip the bark from trees. But if you provide food for them, you can coax them away from your prized flowerbeds and enjoy their acrobatic displays instead of worrying about how to keep squirrels out of pots, or away from bird feeders.
Fortunately, the grey squirrel has such a varied diet that they’ll eat a whole bunch of different foods. So, if you’re wondering what to feed squirrels in the backyard, look no further; we’ve got you covered with some ideas below. This article was completely overhauled in December, 2020 – first published in October 2019.
Attracting Squirrels to Your Backyard
I love watching the squirrels bounce from branch to branch in my backyard, especially in the fall when the leaves droop and you can watch the display from your windows. But if food is becoming scarce, then you might not see them around all that much. And this is a common problem in the winter when food is less readily available for them.
If you have a resident squirrel population in your area, then attracting squirrels to your backyard shouldn’t prove too difficult. They love to eat, and providing the right kind of foods is a surefire way to invite them over for a picnic. In fact, if you’ve got a bird feeder set up in your garden, chances are you’re already seeing visits from these furry friends.
Did you know there are over 200 species of squirrels?
“According to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), and they are categorized into three types: tree squirrels, ground squirrels and flying squirrels.
These three categories are further broken down into many squirrel types, such as Albino, Mountain Tree, Antelope, Spotted, Grey, American Red, Douglas, Fox, Pygmy, Northern Flying, Southern, Arizona Gray, Idaho, Arctic Ground, Albert’s, Franklin, Richardson, Rock, White and Black squirrel.” (livescience.com)
Out in the wild, squirrels are not fussy about keeping their energy levels up. They’ll routinely gobble up around their own body weight in food each and every week. That’s about 1 lb of food that these critters are going to need to source, meaning they’re not shy about eating anything they can get their hands on.
To make the whole process even easier, consider a pre-made starter pack. It comes with food, a nesting box, nesting material, treats, a water bottle, and a food dish. Don’t miss the super-cute picnic table feeder below though, squirrels appreciate style as much as we do!
Stephanie Mantilla is a positive reinforcement animal trainer at Curiosity Trained. During her 12 years as a zookeeper, she’s trained animals from lizards to lions. Stephanie says that, because squirrels are prey animals, your first step should be to provide cover. “Having bushes and trees that squirrels can run and hide in lets them feel safe and more likely to visit your yard.”
Stephanie’s second tip is to provide a clean water source. “If you keep a birdbath algae-free and full of fresh water, you’ll give squirrels a water source they’ll visit throughout the day.”
What to Feed Squirrels in Backyard
You’d be forgiven for thinking that squirrels only eat natural nuts and seeds, after all, that’s what you’ll routinely see them burying in the lawn.
In terms of naturally-occurring foods, they’ll also hoover up:
- Tree flowers,
- tree buds,
- and spruce, among other things.
While a large part of their diet does revolve around plant materials, they are also known to be carnivores. The Eastern Gray Squirrel will tuck into:
- Small insects,
- bird eggs,
- and even amphibians.
But don’t worry, we don’t expect you to keep small lizards around for when squirrels get hungry.
Thankfully, there are a whole bunch of other foods you can feed squirrels in the backyard.
Though some of these foods may not be natural, the increasing interaction between humans and squirrels means that the little critters get treated to even more foods than ever before. You can lay down:
- Peanut butter,
- corn (you can buy corn on the cob for squirrels in bulk!),
- and zucchini, to name but a few.
They’ll even munch their way through certain types of biscuits – the nuttier the better!
But if you really want to dole out the treats, you should consider leaving out some:
- Shelled nuts, such as:
- peanuts (you can buy clean peanuts for squirrels in bulk)
- and hickory nuts.
Not only are hickory nuts tasty, but they also give them something useful to gnaw on. This improves their tooth health while preventing them from chewing on something you find valuable or destroying your trees’ bark.
The trick is variety. “If they could, it’s very likely that squirrels would feast on scrumptious nuts 24 hours a day, but what they really need, like humans, it a balanced diet.” (feedingnature.com).
Jamie from Motley Zoo Animal Rescue says that squirrels are a bit like kids – they don’t love to eat their veggies and often prefer carbs in stuff like sweet potato or squash to greens- but they do eat a variety of greens and veggies. He recommends feeding squirrels fruit only sparingly as it is more like dessert for them. Like kids, squirrels need to eat their “greens” first, and not indulge in sweets too much!
My kids love exploring and spotting wildlife. These take-along guides are excellent for helping kids spot squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks in the backyard!
To make things easy, you can get healthy, premixed blends for squirrels online, like these ones.
Jamie seconds the Henry’s brand above. He says Henry’s blocks are designed as a balanced diet specifically for squirrels, so it takes the guess work out of feeding squirrels healthy food.
What Do Squirrels Eat?
- Bird eggs
- Bird seed
- Cashew nuts
- Flower bulbs
- Hazelnuts (these hazelnut sticks are healthy and easy to deal with)
- Kiwi Fruit
- Leafy greens
- Macadamia nuts
- Peanut butter
- Pecan nuts (Henry’s Wild Bites is one of the best and healthiest mixes for squirrels I’ve seen – it contains pecans)
- Pine nuts
- Pistachio nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Small insects
- Sunflower seeds (the easiest mix is a squirrel-specific one you can buy pre-made)
- Tree buds
- Tree flowers
All that’s missing now is the cutest squirrel feeder in the world, check it out:
Learn as much as you can about squirrels. There are books and documentaries about what they need to stay healthy, and you can learn about their habits and ways too. My favorite is Squirrel Life:
What NOT to Feed Squirrels
I know, I know; we’ve already established that squirrels are ready to eat pretty much anything, so why are there foods that we shouldn’t feed these little guys? Well, this species is prone to something called MBD, or Metabolic Bone Disease. If they feast on too much junk food, they could be put at risk of health complications – perhaps they’re more similar to us than we think!
Honestly, you could probably hold out an ice cream cone and they’d probably lick the cream from your hand, but you should absolutely steer clear of heavily-processed human foods. Also, you’ll want to avoid overdoing the sunflower seeds and peanuts. Many people think these are great for squirrels, but the truth is that they have poor nutritional value, plus peanuts can harbor poisonous mold that is bad for squirrels.
Jamie from Motley Zoo agrees that much of what we feed squirrels is not great for them, even if the squirrels love them.
Peanuts is such an example, he says. “Almost any other nut- except brazil nuts and chestnuts- is much better for squirrels than peanuts. Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, and pecans are beloved favorites- especially in their shells. Never feed salted nuts as this is unnecessary and too much sodium for them.”
Casper Ohm, marine biologist and editor-in-chief at water-pollution.org.uk, raises a good point as to whether we should feed the visiting wildlife.
He states: “The debate of ‘should we feed the wildlife that visits our backyards’ continues to rise since even the United States Department of Agriculture says that feeding wild animals could be bad for their health. “Wild animals have specialized diets, and they can become malnourished or even die if fed the wrong foods,” states the USDA.”
“However, some are in favor of feeding the wildlife that visits them (squirrels in the majority of the cases), but never without researching what is good and bad for them.”
One final thing to remember is that for squirrels, as it is for us, variety is key. Ark Wildlife says it well:
The thing to remember is if all we ate was peanuts, we’d become ill pretty quickly too. A varied diet is the key to good health and the supplementary feeding of a few peanuts to wild animals will do far more good than harm. The potential for harm only occurs when squirrels (and particularly their young) start to depend on peanuts as a staple over a varied foraged diet.
Protect Your Vegetable Gardens From Squirrels
As we’ve alluded to above, squirrels have no reservations about eating their way through a stash of vegetables. And of course, these little beasts have the power to dig through the ground, which is why you’ll often see them storing food under the surface in winter.
So, if you’ve got a budding vegetable garden, be sure to protect it with netting – just remember that squirrels are some of the most adept climbers around!
I’ve had a real tough time trying to grow strawberries, as the squirrels in my backyard love destroying them before they’ve ever had a chance to grow.
To be honest, the best way I’ve found to protect my vegetables is to house everything inside one of those greenhouses you can put together yourself on a budget. You can grow our ‘5 must-grow vegetables for a self-sufficient garden‘ and keep them safe!
How to Keep Squirrels out of Bird Feeders
Unfortunately, those squirrels aren’t too picky about what they eat and they’ll happily dive into your bird feeders. If you want to know how to keep squirrels out of bird feeders, you can protect your bird feeders in a bunch of different ways.
You can pick up something called a ‘baffle‘, which is a little like a light shade that fits over the feeder and prevents squirrels from breaking in. Cages work just as well, or you can just go all-out and buy a purpose-built, squirrel-proof bird feeder. Stephanie says that a dedicated squirrel feeder can also deter squirrels from eating your expensive birdseed.
If all else fails, then try coating your bird feed in hot sauce or chilli powder, like the Flaming Squirrel Hot Sauce which is specifically made for birds – it’s also a cheaper solution. While birds can’t taste these things, your squirrels won’t be coming back for a free meal in a hurry.
Storing Food For Squirrels
Squirrels are cheekier and more intelligent than you might give them credit for. They’re completely capable of busting into your food stores through doors, windows, or gaps in the roof if you don’t properly seal the store. So, you should be careful about where you keep your squirrel feed and make sure all gaps and spaces are filled in.
So, in a nutshell – get it? – you should aim to lay out vegetables and nuts for your furry visitors, especially the shelled kinds. But steer clear of processed human foods or too many sunflower seeds and peanuts. And make sure that you’re securely storing away all your food.
Also, consider a squirrel-proof bird feeder that won’t be routinely raided by the squirrels if you want to ensure that your birds stop paying a visit. In the meantime, if you’ve thought of any novel ways to protect your bird feed or vegetable patch, or you make your own squirrel food, drop us a comment below!
And, if you’re serious about your squirrels, consider wearing this t-shirt – it shows true commitment! It comes in a few different colors too.
Last update on 2021-04-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API