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Last updated: May 24, 2023
A guide explaining whether you should feed or not feed squirrels in the yard, what kind of food they like, and how best to feed them.
Some people will do everything possible to keep squirrels out of their yard, while others love having them feed and roam in their outdoor space.
I 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.
In this article, I will dive a little deeper into this topic and explain everything you need to know 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 NOT to 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.
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.
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 very territorial, and they can be quite aggressive amongst their species. As such, it is best not to approach them and instead just let them be.
It’s also important not to hand-feed squirrels because their teeth are very sharp, and they might see your fingers as food.
Another reason not to 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.
However, please note 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, and 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 not to 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:
- Hickory nuts
Note: nuts still in their shells are the best because they are raw and help keep the squirrel’s teeth active and healthy.
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. Avoid feeding squirrels salted, roasted, or flavored nuts and seeds because those excess ingredients can disrupt digestion.
It’s also worth researching whether certain nuts and seeds you want to feed squirrels are 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 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.
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There are various types of squirrel feeders, from miniature picnic tables to flat platforms. Some can be installed onto a tree, while 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 feed them.
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:
- Processed food
- Snacks/junk food (chips, candy)
It’s also worth mentioning that peanuts and sunflower seeds aren’t the best food items to give to squirrels.
Sunflower seeds and peanuts aren’t the most nutritious, and while they will certainly fill squirrels up quickly, they simply won’t get enough nutrition if 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 be a highly effective way to lure squirrels away from bird feeders.
The trick is to have bird feeders and squirrel feeders as far away from each other as possible, and to use different feeders that are specific for birds and squirrels.
The 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 focus on birds, especially during the colder winter months, and let squirrels use their hunting skills to feed themselves in the wild. This also means I try to protect bird feeders against squirrels. One effective way to deter squirrels is by using cayenne pepper in bird seed.
Read my guide on keeping squirrels away from bird feeders for more practical tips on this topic.
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.