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No matter which type of wildlife you’re trying to feed, you end up feeding the squirrels as well. Whether you put out seeds for the birds or peanuts for the deer and the woodpeckers, the squirrels will get into it, too. They love dried fruits, nuts, and seeds. But do squirrels eat anything else? Are they strictly herbivores, or do squirrels eat meat, too?
Yes, squirrels eat meat. As omnivores, meat plays an important role in their diet. Like other animals, they require adequate protein to stay healthy, so they consume bird eggs, lizards, mice, snakes, and many other small animals to meet their nutritional requirements.
Why do squirrels eat meat?
Squirrels are rodents, and as such, they are both predators and prey animals. They’re in the middle of the food chain, and even though that means they’re above some critters, like insects and small snakes, it means they’re below others, like owls. Because a squirrel never knows when it’s going to have to run away, it’s got to be able to maintain its muscle mass.
Protein is essential for healthy muscle development. Without it, muscle wastes away, and limp, slack muscles aren’t going to help a squirrel that’s being stalked by a hawk. Squirrels eat meat to help them build the strength they need to run away, climb trees, and to hunt and forage.
It’s also important to mention that squirrels are highly opportunistic. Wild animals don’t always know where their next meal is going to come from or when they’re going to get it. So they have to make the most of what they find when they find it. If squirrels can easily eat from your backyard birdfeeder, they will. If they can easily raid a mouse nest and eat the babies, they will. Squirrels prefer to work smarter, not harder.
When do squirrels eat meat?
Meat usually plays a modest, though critical, role in a squirrel’s diet. It isn’t like squirrels eat meat and meat alone. However, meat may end up becoming more important to a squirrel when other food sources are limited.
During droughts or periods of overgrazing, the nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables that squirrels love won’t be so readily available. They have to look for alternatives. Squirrels will turn to meat to help pad out their diets.
As it turns out, this is a good thing. When food sources are in short supply, population control is a viable solution. By preying on other animals, squirrels can reduce the number of foragers that feed on the dwindling food supply.
When else do squirrels eat meat? Usually before or during winter, when plants go dormant. See, squirrels don’t hibernate, but they tend to sleep more during the cold months. When they do wake up, in the morning and evening hours, they need nutritionally dense food to help them stay warm. So they tend to consume more meat during this time.
What kinds of meat do squirrels eat?
Which meats a squirrel eats depends on what’s available in their area. In general, squirrels prefer to eat smaller prey that’s easy for them to manage. But these wily mammals are willing to attack larger animals that are double their size. Here are some of the most common types of meat that squirrels eat.
Insects may not qualify as “meat” to us humans, but for squirrels, they certainly do. Squirrels will scrounge around for beetles and mealworms. They’ll eat whatever they can find, but most squirrels prefer soft insects because they’re tender and easier to digest.
Squirrels will also catch butterflies, moths, and dragonflies if they can. These larger bugs are a better source of protein than smaller bugs, so even though they may be a little trickier to catch, there’s a higher payoff.
Snakes, Lizards, and Skinks
Lizards and skinks like to hang out in the same places squirrels do. They like to be in the shade where vegetation grows well and the soil is moist and cool. Being in close proximity to squirrels makes them potential prey just by default.
Squirrels are highly skilled at tracking down snake nests and eating the eggs and young. And, did you know that ground squirrels are mostly immune to rattlesnake venom? Because this snake’s venom poses them no great threat, ground squirrels have been known to fight adult rattlesnakes, which average three to four feet in length.
Unfortunately, snakes consider squirrels prey, too. So to avoid becoming a hungry snake’s next meal, squirrels will eat snake skins and lick the residual snake smell into their fur. This helps disguise their scent from other predators, and the dead skin provides them with an additional source of collagen that helps keep their muscles elastic and flexible.
Do squirrels eat meat? Yes, and if they live near a pond, river, or stream, they may eat fish, too. Squirrels don’t always enjoy playing in the water, so some may be reluctant to go fishing. But these are curious creatures who enjoy trying new things. If they’re able to catch a fish, they’ll most likely do so just to see if they like the taste.
Smaller fish are a squirrel’s best option. Minnows and little perch are most likely to hang out in shallow waters where squirrels can reach them. Squirrels may also nibble on fish that fish-eating birds have dropped accidentally.
Mice and Rats
Squirrels live in trees, but they spend a good portion of their time on the ground, right where mice and rats like to make their nests. These smaller rodents prefer to seek shelter in secluded areas: under pallets in barns, or beneath boxes and storage containers in sheds. It can be tough for squirrels to reach these spaces. But sometimes, the safest place around for rats and mice to raise their young is in an old brush pile, where squirrels have a better chance of getting to them.
Young mice and rats are easy targets for hungry squirrels. But squirrels will eat adult mice and rats when given the chance, too. Tree squirrels, in particular, are fond of preying on mice and rats, and will do so at every opportunity.
Birds and Bird Eggs
Have you ever noticed broken eggshells on the ground in the spring? You might think these remnants have simply fallen out of a nest after baby birds have hatched. But these shells are likely the result of a predator feeding on a bird’s nest. Squirrels love to go through bird nests, not just for the eggs, but also for the young birds.
Baby birds make an easy, nutritious meal for squirrels. Even deer have been known to eat baby birds because they’re an excellent source of protein when times are tough. So if you have birdhouses in your yard, take precautions to keep them safe from the squirrels.
Squirrels will track down rabbit nests and feed on the babies, which can grow to be one-quarter to one-third of a squirrel’s size before they’ve even opened their eyes. Though squirrels are unlikely to eat more than one baby rabbit in one sitting, that may not stop them from killing a whole nest. They like to pick and choose which parts they eat and leave the less tasty bits behind.
Most types of tree and ground squirrels do not attack adult rabbits. However, red tree squirrels routinely hunt smaller adult rabbits and can be quite fearless in their pursuit of them. They are among the few squirrels that will actively seek out and stalk their prey.
Do squirrels eat meat? Yes. Do squirrels eat their own young? Also yes. Disconcertingly, squirrels have been known to eat their babies when food is scarce. Mother squirrels may decide to eat their young if they’re having trouble recovering from birth. Many animals engage in this behavior, particularly rodents.
Typically, mothers in the wild don’t like to eat their young. That defeats the purpose of procreation. So even though squirrels will eat their babies, this is usually a “desperate times” type of situation.
What else do squirrels eat?
So, do squirrels eat meat? Oh, you bet! But let’s not forget that these are omnivores, not carnivores. Plants make up the bulk of a squirrel’s diet. But which plants in particular? Let’s talk about a few of the other things that squirrels like to eat.
Nuts and Seeds
This one is a no-brainer! Squirrels love nuts and seeds, especially acorns. They enjoy eating commercial birdseed, which is usually comprised of milo and millet. But they love corn and peanuts, too. Many grains are also great foraging options for squirrels, including oats. And, like deer, squirrels love soybeans.
Dried or fresh, squirrels love the sugary taste of fruits. Apples, cantaloupe, watermelon, and berries are all squirrel favorites. But squirrels are especially fond of citrus fruits, particularly oranges and grapefruits. Perhaps it’s because these fruits are also an excellent source of moisture.
Vegetables are popular with squirrels as well. Tomatoes, radishes, asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms — you name it, the squirrels will love it. And don’t be surprised if it turns out the squirrels are the ones tearing up your pumpkin patch, not the deer. Squirrels love squash and gourds.
Flowers and Plants
Why do squirrels eat meat? Well, because even though vegetation makes up a large portion of their diet, it’s not the most nutritious. Squirrels love to eat tender new foliage and nectar-rich flower buds. But even though flowers are a good source of pollen, which is high in protein, it’s not enough to support a squirrel. They must rely on meat to get all of the protein they need.
Squirrels are foragers who are hungry all the time, but their preferred food choices may not always be available. So the answer to the question “do squirrels eat meat?” is yes, most often because they have to. By attracting local squirrels with a ready source of commercially available squirrel food, you can help them stay healthy even when the foods they love are scarce.