What to Feed Squirrels in the Backyard

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Last updated: April 13, 2022

In this article, I will explain whether you should feed or not feed squirrels, what kind of food they like, and how best to feed squirrels in the yard.

Some people will do everything they can to keep squirrels out of their yard, while others love having them feed and roam around in their outdoor space.

I personally do love watching squirrels go about their day in my backyard and do all those fun acrobatic movements and tricks. But I am also aware that squirrels can be a bit of a nuisance in more than one way.

Read on, and learn more about feeding squirrels in the yard!

Should You Feed Squirrels?

The core question we have to ask ourselves before buying a feeder and squirrel food is whether feeding squirrels is actually the right thing to do.

Yes, it is okay to feed squirrels in the backyard. But there are a lot of things to keep in mind, which I will be discussing throughout this article.

The most important thing to remember is to feed squirrels the right type of food, and also in moderation. The goal should always be to complement their natural diet, not to disrupt or replace it.

Reasons to feed squirrels in the backyard:

  • To help them when food is scarce.
  • To lure them away from bird feeders.
  • To enjoy the presence of wildlife in the yard.

One reason why many people prefer to NOT attract squirrels to their outdoor space is that they will chew on anything they come across, desperately hunting for food.

This can include things like wooden furniture and toys, but also fresh garden produce and bird food.

Safety

It is generally considered safe to feed squirrels. They are naturally non-aggressive, quick, and smart. This helps to keep them safe from potential predators when looking for new food sources.

Red squirrel
Red squirrel

However, squirrels are still wild animals, so there will always be some risk associated with having squirrels in the yard.

Squirrels can get territorial and excited when there is food involved. Wild squirrels can also carry bacteria and parasites that could potentially be transferred to pets and humans.

Do Not Hand-Feed

Keep in mind that squirrels are actually very territorial, and they can be quite aggressive amongst their own species. As such, it is best to not approach them and instead just let them be.

It’s also important to not hand-feed squirrels because their teeth are very sharp and they might see your fingers as food.

Another reason to not hand-feed is that squirrels, and wild animals in general, can carry bacteria and germs that can be transferred to humans.

What Can You Feed Squirrels?

A squirrel is an omnivore, which means that it likes to eat both plants and animal matter.

The diet of a squirrel is quite varied, but mainly consists of seeds, nuts, fruits, fungi, eggs, insects, and even small animals.

Please do note though that when humans try to feed squirrels, they will get to consume things that they would usually not find so easily in the wild.

For example, we can feed squirrels strawberries, zucchini, pecans, just to name a few food items. But these are mostly foods added to their natural diet. And because these are additional foods, it’s important to not overfeed squirrels, to avoid replacing their natural diet.

Food for Squirrels

Here is a list of common food items that you can feed squirrels in the yard:

Nuts:

  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pecans
  • Walnuts
  • Acorns
  • Hickory nuts

Note: nuts still in their shells are the best, because they are raw and they help keep the squirrel’s teeth active and healthy.

Fruits:

  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Watermelon
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Pumpkin

Vegetables:

  • Cabbage
  • Zucchini
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Peas
  • Broccoli

Things to Keep in Mind

There are a few important things to keep in mind when feeding squirrels.

Firstly, it’s essential to keep food as natural and raw as possible. Try to avoid feeding squirrels salted, roasted or flavored nuts and seeds, because those excess ingredients can disrupt their digestion.

It’s also worth doing a bit of research into whether certain nuts and seeds that you want to feed squirrels are actually native to the area you’re living in. This helps to keep their diet as natural and as balanced as possible.

Also note that squirrel food can attract other wild animals that you wouldn’t necessarily want to have in your backyard. It’s definitely recommended to keep an eye on the feeder and its surroundings to see if other unwanted animals have discovered your outdoor space as a food source.

How to Feed Squirrels?

Unsurprisingly, the best way to feed squirrels is by installing a purpose-built squirrel feeder.

Picnic Table Squirrel Feeder
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There are various types of squirrels feeders, from miniature picnic tables to flat platforms. Some can be installed onto a tree, others can simply stand on the ground.

What Can Squirrels NOT Eat?

While it’s good to know what we can feed squirrels in our backyards, it’s equally important to know what we should not be feeding squirrels.

As I mentioned above, we need to try and keep the food as natural and raw as possible. And that means no cooked, salted, or artificially flavored foods.

Things that we should not feed squirrels:

  • Bread
  • Processed food
  • Snacks/junk food (chips, candy)

It’s also worth mentioning that peanuts and sunflower seeds aren’t actually the best food items to give to squirrels.

Sunflower seeds and peanuts aren’t exactly the most nutritious, and while they will certainly fill squirrels up quickly, they simply won’t get enough nutrition in if they are given too much.

Squirrels and Birds

If you have a large enough backyard, it is indeed possible to have birds and squirrels visit your backyard to feed without disturbing each other.

In fact, installing a dedicated squirrel feeder can often work as a highly effective way to lure squirrels away from bird feeders.

Brown squirrel eating walnut
Brown squirrel eating walnut

The trick is to have bird feeders and squirrel feeders as far away from each other as possible, and to use feeders that are specific for birds and feeders specific for squirrels.

Next thing you do is give squirrels specific food that they like, and do the same for birds. This will keep them both happy.

All that said, ever since I moved to a house with a smaller outdoor space, I have chosen not to actively invite squirrels to my yard.

I now prefer to just focus on birds, especially during the colder winter months, and let squirrels use their own hunting skills to feed themselves in the wild. This also means I try to protect bird feeders against squirrels.

Final Thoughts

Feeding squirrels in the backyard can be a fun and educational way to engage with wildlife around your home.

Make sure you offer appropriate food sources, and also consider how feeding wild squirrels may impact other animals and plants in the yard.

Squirrels are actively looking for food, water and shelter throughout the year, and they do not hibernate during the winter months.

Especially during those colder months, feeding squirrels high-fat foods such as nuts will be beneficial.

 

Feeding squirrels in the yard

 
Thomas Dunnett

The backyard is the perfect place to bond with family and friends, to have a good time, or to simply relax with some fresh air and a bit of sunshine. With this website I am hoping to share my passion for the backyard with you.

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