Squirrel Diet consists mainly of nuts and seeds. In some cases squirrels will eat birds and bird eggs. Insects may also be eaten. They have strong affinity for bark, sap and young saplings. The diet of the squirrel can cause considerable headaches to the home gardener and commercial growers, too.
The food eaten is similar for most every species in the US and Canada. These include acorns, tree buds, maple sap, tree bark and very young saplings. Berries and other fruits are eaten including pears and apples. They enjoy flowers and fruit tree blossoms, too. Seeds and acorns make up the majority of their diet in the wild with sunflower seeds a true favorite. In parks and college campuses they will become fond of more “human” fare comprised of pizza and bread to name a few.
In your yard and garden the squirrel diet may lead them to eat the corn from your vegetable garden, petunias and geraniums from your flower beds and strip the bark from ornamental trees. Of course, any bulbs planted in the fall are fair game for squirrels as well. They have all too often been known to eat the plastic and wood around bird feeders to get to that tender store bought seed you’ve placed for the song birds!
Squirrel Diet-Physical Attributes
To assist in getting at those delicious seeds and fruits the animals are designed for climbing through the tree tops and climbing through the tree tops is serious business. Tree squirrels and Red squirrels have very powerful legs to help jump, a fifth digit on their rear paws to help grasp and perhaps their signature feature, those bushy tails! Not only are these tails attractive, they assist the animal in balancing as they reach for that elusive acorn.
Flying squirrels have added assistance in the tree top life, the patagiuim. This is the web of skin that acts as a sail allowing them to gracefully glide from higher to lower branches quickly and precisely.
As with all rodents, all species of squirrels have continuously growing incisors and must continuously gnaw and chew. They do not have problems with overgrowth of their teeth because their favorite foods are nuts and acorns and the tough outer shells of these fruits keep those incisors in line.
Squirrel Diet-Seasonal Variances
General seasonal differences apply to the squirrel diet in that foods are eaten as they come to maturity including nuts, seeds and fruits. While squirrels do hoard food throughout the year, this hoarding becomes steadier in late summer as they prepare for winter in northern climates.
Squirrel Diet-Benefits and Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem
The diet of the squirrel has little benefit to humans. In the wild squirrels can cause damage to forest trees by chewing on the bark which can be detrimental to young trees. Also, it has been noted that pine squirrels (Red and Douglas) actually remove 60% to 80% of the seed cones in Ponderosa pine forests causing a disruption in the natural reseeding of these trees.
Commercially, high squirrel populations can affect harvests on nut farms and can affect fruit orchards by eating blossoms and fruits along with the bark of the trees.
At home the somewhat voracious squirrel diet can cause damage to flower and vegetable gardens and their hoarding practices can leave carefully tended lawns dotted with holes from digging. They will damage bird houses and bird feeders to get to the small birds or that tender seed. The animals will chew on the tender young bark of ornamental trees to the point where the health of the trees may be compromised.
Before we banish them completely, it should be noted that the benefits of the squirrel diet while less prominent, do occur. This includes the enjoyment found by many while watching the animals climbing through the tree tops. Also, because they have several stashes of hidden food, much of which is never recovered and, consequently, germinates and grows, dispersal of plant seed is a major benefit of the squirrel diet.