What do squirrel’s eat?
Even among tree squirrels, the species matters as to the primary food source and storage strategy. Pine squirrels ( Tamiasciurus ), like Douglas and American red squirrels, are larder hoarders who eat primarily tree seeds (pine cones); as well as other foods that they can find such as mushrooms, buds, catkins, flowers and berries, storing all of their food in a single location or midden (larder).
Eastern gray squirrels and fox squirrels, on the other hand, prefer tree mast like acorns, walnuts, pecans; as well as fruit, berries, and seeds. These squirrels are scatter hoarders, burying each nut its own hiding place. These species have adapted quite well to foods available in an urban setting and are highly opportunistic feeders – eating atypical foods when necessity and opportunity are present.
In summary, when deciding the diet for any captive squirrel, you must first know its specie and natural history to fully understand the types of foods its body is adapted for and present those foods as naturally as possible so that the animal can demonstrate normal food seeking and storage behaviors.
Most urban squirrels survive periods of food shortage by being highly opportunistic feeders . These squirrels will happily eat cookies, cake, and ice cream. These ‘people foods’ are not particularly good for people, and even less so for squirrels.
Another survival strategy that has serves wild squirrels well is to eat a lot in times of plenty to build fat store that help them survive through lean times. This tenancy, along with lack of exercise, can result in very fat captive squirrels. Unfortunately, while fat squirrels may be cute to us, they are at increased risk of obesity related disorders and predation, resembling tasty slow moving sausages on four legs to most predators.
Squirrels do not tend to overeat when presented with a wild diet or when the bulk of their diet is composed of rodent block. Squirrels do over eat when fed a diet high in peanuts, seeds and corn – the squirrel equivalent of a candy diet to humans – which also places them at much higher risk for serious nutritional disorders like Metabolic Bone Disease.
As mentioned, most captive squirrels wont eat to obesity when presented with a nutritious wild diet or when the bulk of their diet is composed of rodent block. Unfortunately, most squirrels wont eat rodent block unless they are raised on it and even then will snub it over almost any other food you offer them.
If you are starting with a young orphan, start feeding the rodent block during the weaning process and hold off on the nuts and other treats until after the block has been consumed and only in small quantities. In the long run you will be glad you did because feeding a picky squirrel is always a challenge.
Feed the most healthy foods first
The strategy for getting your squirrel to eat healthy food is to offer fresh rodent block in the morning with a mix of healthy fruits and vegetables, discussed in more detail below. Only at the end of the day should treats like nuts and seeds be offered and only in small quantities.
All food and water must be fresh at all times
All food and water left over from the prior day should be discarded and replaced with fresh since some squirrels will urinate on their food or water making it unfit for consumption.