Love squirrels? Look after their nutritional needs with our complete guide to what to feed squirrels in your backyard. We have included an epic list of the foods that are healthy for squirrels, as well as the foods you should never feed them. We’ll also go through some great tips on how to attract squirrels.
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.
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 food 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:
That’s style for squirrels!
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:
Squirrel Life Season 1 - A Squirrel's Got To Eat!
Focuses on the squirrel's legendary appetites and love of fine food! Meet Gray Squirrels, Red Squirrels, Flying Squirrels, Chipmunks, and Ground Squirrels.
They all have unique personalities and are quite the characters. Their lives revolve around food, home, and family. These are their stories - told by squirrels and starring squirrels.
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!
Motley Zoo recommends a proper balance of calcium and phosphorus for squirrels to avoid MBD. Jamie says:
There should be as much or more calcium than phosphorous or else the squirrel’s body will begin to pull calcium from their bones instead, leading to a decline and potential death.Jamie – Motley Zoo
He mentions that MBD can potentially be turned around if the squirrel is not too sick yet, especially with proper exposure to sunlight.
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.
“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. Have a look at our mouse-proof storage solutions, which will work just as well for squirrels.
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.
Friday 6th of January 2023
Nice, informative article. Like you mentioned, calcium is key. I Foster rehab squirrels, and researched what calcium to phosphorus ratio fruits and vegetables have and offer those that are 2:1 like Kale , or better, like spinach, & to help counteract the low calcium in nuts, I use a powder calcium supplement from Henry's, (Exotic Nutrition also offers one). I just put a little in a baggie with the nuts and shake until they are coated. My kiddos like the hazelnuts from Henry's, (unsalted) pistachios and acorns best. Hazelnuts and especially Pecans from Henry's in the shell were challenging and I cracked some for them until they got the hang of it. Avoid raw peanuts, they can be fatal. Only give roasted, unsalted ones. They like the Picky Bites and Wild Bites from Henry's and do not like rodent block, and they are not fans of corn. Royal Wing has a total Care for squirrels and chipmunks with nuts, seeds, and dehydrated veggies and vitamins and calcium they like. They also have a Wildlife feed that is NOT total Care, has no calcium or vitamins and is too corn heavy, which they don't like, and I do not recommend. They like a variety of vegetables but don't like a lot of fruit. They like crunchy things better than mushy.
Sunday 8th of January 2023
Hi Ann! Thank you so much for your informative comment :)
Wednesday 23rd of November 2022
We have two that come into our kitchen when we open the door. The neighbors cat is afraid of them. I think he has been pounced on too many times. They beg at the door and let me know when they think they’re being ignored. Today, I heard a strange noise. One of them was on top of the grill, looking through the back door and he was making that squawking sound that squirrels make, except he was calling me. Good grief, they have trained me.
Sunday 27th of November 2022
Hi Valerie! Wow, that is so amazing! They have you well trained indeed :) We used to have a horse that was like this - he'd stand by the kitchen window looking in, then poke his head in the door. If any of us forgot to close the bottom of the Dutch door, he'd walk right inside! Enjoy :D Elle
Friday 5th of August 2022
Hello. Thank you for this information. I’m not trying to attract squirrels, I’m just trying to help them as much as I can on a very limited income. We’ve had unusually high temperatures (Austin, TX) and very little rain for so long this year, that the plants squirrels usually depend on are not doing well. I’ve noticed the critters are quite thin. Can you tell me how to set out fruit for the squirrels? Can I put a dish on the ground with nuts, pieces of fruits & vegetables? Thank you.
Sunday 7th of August 2022
Hi, thanks so much for stopping in! You certainly can feed them using a dish on the ground. One thing to look out for is predators, however - when squirrels feed on the ground, it makes them susceptible to attacks from predators such as cats. One option is a specific squirrel feeder or a hanging dish that makes it harder for predators to get to them. The RSPCA recommends shredding the food, which stops them burying bigger pieces in your yard. Sciencing has some great tips on how to DIY squirrel feeders from old soda bottles. They also recommend hanging fruits like apples from string, as well as other great ideas. They're well worth checking out for additional tips! I do hope the squirrels are going to be okay, and thank you for looking out for them! Elle
Thursday 27th of August 2020
Great Article! The tips you have mentioned in this article is really impressive. Thanks for sharing valuable information!
Sunday 30th of August 2020
Thanks Birdie! Glad you enjoyed them :)
Monday 13th of July 2020
My wife and I once rescued a juvenile red squirrel from a large crow pecking at the little guy on our street. We brought it into our home and made “Lucky” comfortable in a mesh-covered box (to protect him from our 3 cats). Lucky recovered very quickly, so we let him outside to be back in the wild. The next morning Lucky was waiting for us at the back door to let him back in our house. Lucky scooted right in as soon as we opened the door. This was a great experience for all of us here in Scarborough, Maine.
Wednesday 15th of July 2020
Hi Denis! Wow, nice job! It's really gratifying to be able to help a little creature out sometimes :). Can't believe Lucky stayed with you and wanted to get back in! We've had some great "saves" here too. They don't all work out as well as we hope, but it's about trying your best. Just a few days, we had a baby owl stuck in the barbed wire fence. We got him out but we believe he has dislocated his wing. The wildlife carers are coming to pick him up and hopefully mend his wing. We tend to name the ones we save too, this guy was dubbed "Olly the Owl". The most memorable rescue was a great big carpet python. He got in through the fence, ate something large, then thought he'd go out the same way. Big mistake - the big bulge in his gut made it impossible to go backward or forward! We found him in the morning, exhausted. We cut the fence and he went on his merry way. I like to think he kept the property free of mice for years after, but truth is, we never saw him again. Thanks for the comment!