Even beginner birders are quick to note that birds aren’t the only little creatures to come around the yard. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, squirrels can often crash the party and feed on food that’s intended for the birds. Whether luring them away from feeders or trying to bring more wildlife to the yard, setting out food specifically for the squirrels can be a good game plan for those looking for more fun shenanigans to observe.
Becoming a Squirrel-Watcher
Birdwatchers get great enjoyment out of observing the fun little behaviors that birds can display. But what about squirrels? The truth is, squirrels can also be a great source of enjoyment, too, providing hours of entertainment from the comfort of home. Whether swishing their tails in annoyance, making death-defying leaps from branch to branch, or simply testing their acrobatics along power lines, many people find squirrels just as fascinating to watch as birds. Feeding squirrels in the backyard has become quite popular.
The Art of Distraction: Keeping Squirrels away from Feeders
Another reason that people set out squirrel food in their backyard is to keep the squirrels away from bird feeders. Instead of rigging up a complicated contraption from a tree branch to keep the bird feeder just out of reach from the squirrels, many people opt for a more strategic approach: setting out squirrel food in another part of the yard. This distraction is sometimes successful at keeping bird feeders from being disturbed by hungry (or curious!) squirrels. By inviting squirrels and birds to chow down in two separate areas of the yard, people are more likely to be able to enjoy watching both animals.
What do Squirrels Eat?
So, what should you set out for the squirrels to eat? In general, squirrels eat a mixture of seeds, nuts, corn, fruit, leaves, fungi and bark. Setting out a variety of these items can help them get a balanced source of nutrition. Even a few of these things, like sunflower seeds and peanuts, will satisfy most squirrels. Some home and garden supply centers sell pre-packaged bags of squirrel food, usually a mixture of larger nuts and seeds. Research nuts and seeds that are native to your region to provide an even stronger source of nutrition. For example, hazelnuts are common in northern states and can provide a natural source of nutrition for squirrels in that region.
What’s important here is to always set out raw ingredients that are suitable for animal consumption, rather than human-grade seeds and nuts. In other words, salted or roasted sunflower seeds are a big no-no, just as flavored or honey-roasted peanuts are better reserved for humans than wild animals. The excess salt, spice, and flavoring of these products can really disrupt a squirrel’s digestion and may do more harm than good.
Never Hand-Feed Squirrels
As tempting as it may be, people should never try to hand-feed wild animals. Nor should they train squirrels to take food directly out of their hands. Animals can carry a wide range of bacteria, mites, fleas, and other germs that can be easily transferred to humans by close interactions like feeding by hand. In addition, hand-feeding squirrels can cause them to lose their fear of humans. This can lead trusting squirrels into dangerous and problematic situations, such as coming close to traffic, or moving right into the rafters of a home.
See also: Is it Okay to Hand Feed Birds?
An Open Invitation
It’s important to note that there’s a lot of crossover when it comes to scavenging for food in the wild. Squirrels aren’t the only ones who love feasting on easy-to-access fruits and nuts that are free for the taking. This means that some of the food sources set out for squirrels can also attract other wildlife, like raccoons, deer, possums, and rabbits. Keep this in mind when staging a feeding area for the squirrels. Consider how this may affect the surrounding environment, including the plants in the yard and the attitude of neighboring residents.
All in all, feeding squirrels can be a good way to preserve a bit of peace for birds visiting backyard feeders. It also invites a new form of entertainment to enjoy from the window. Just be sure to use appropriate food sources and consider the effects of feeding the squirrels in your yard before you decide to do so.