What do Grey Squirrels Eat?

Grey squirrels are not native to the UK but are naturalised, having arrived here about 150-years ago. Their inquisitive and resourceful nature brings them into regular contact with humans, often welcome, sometimes not!
Grey squirrel in the garden
Grey squirrels are not native to the UK but are naturalised, having arrived here about 150-years ago. Their inquisitive and resourceful nature brings them into regular contact with humans, often welcome, sometimes not!

Grey squirrels are opportunistic feeders, and their varied diet often brings them into conflict with gardeners. They will eat all sorts of plant material, including buds, catkins, flowers and stems. They also strip bark from trees and bury seeds and nuts, digging numerous holes in borders and beds. Both red and grey squirrels also enjoy much of the food we put out for wild birds, and they can be quite destructive, chewing through plastic and metal feeders to get to the seeds and nuts inside. Read more about what red squirrels eat in our guide.

In this guide, we will take a closer look at what grey squirrels typically eat in the wild, what a squirrel’s favourite food is, how to feed grey squirrels and answer some of your common feeding queries.

Squirrel eating a monkey nut or peanut in sheel

What do grey squirrels like to eat in the wild?

In the wild, grey squirrels enjoy a variety of foods, including seeds, nuts, fruit and vegetables. Woodland provides all the food and cover they need, with their diet based on nuts, fungi, berries, fruit, bark and sap. They are known to take a larger share of available food and use deceptive tactics to protect their supplies. They cleverly dig and cover cache sites without actually burying food to serve as a distraction for other squirrels and prevent carefully foraged food from being immediately taken by other opportunistic squirrels. Grey squirrels can be seen feeding on the ground more often than their red cousins, giving them greater access to feeding opportunities.

Grey squirrels also have a competitive advantage over red squirrels in that they can digest seeds and nuts before they are fully ripe, with their digestive system being mature enough to deal with the tannins, whereas the red squirrels cannot.

Are squirrels carnivores, herbivores or omnivores?

Like us, squirrels are omnivores. However, the majority of their diet is plant-based. 

In addition to their usual choice of seeds, nuts, and fruit, squirrels may occasionally help themselves to the fats and suets you have on offer. When they’re foraging for themselves and in times of need, squirrels have been known to eat eggs, insects and carrion.

What can you feed grey squirrels?

When nature forces itself into even the most inhospitable of places, you must admire the courage and tenacity of the creatures involved. Squirrels are delightfully entertaining animals, intelligent and playful. In the garden, they will live their lives in full view, providing fascinating insight into the living world. It’s a brilliant opportunity to feed grey squirrels and leave out their favourite foods for them to enjoy.

Squirrels favourite foods

If you’re wondering what the best squirrel food is, we’ve put together a list of safe foods to give grey squirrels in your garden. These include:

  • Hazelnuts in shells
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Chopped apples
  • Green beans
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Bean sprouts
  • Celery
  • Monkey nuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Dried banana chips

Ark Wildlife stocks a variety of food for squirrels that grey squirrels enjoy and can help supplement their diet all year round. This specially formulated squirrel food is best for the squirrel feeder. A squirrel feeder is a handy way to supply food to our woodland friends in their own corner of the garden, discouraging them from damaging bird feeds and allowing squirrels and birds to co-exist.

    Squirrel eating nuts on a picnic table

     

    What nuts do grey squirrels eat?

    Grey squirrels enjoy a variety of nuts, including:

    • Acorns
    • Walnuts
    • Almonds
    • Hazelnuts
    • Pecans
    • Beech nuts
    • Macadamia
    • Pine nuts

    Make sure that any nuts you feed them are unsweetened and unsalted.

    What do young squirrels eat?

    Young squirrels, known as pups or kits, have specific dietary requirements during the early days but evolve as they grow. Newborns will rely solely on their mother’s milk for the first 6-8 weeks, and then as they begin to develop fur and open their eyes, the mother will provide soft fruits, nuts and seeds alongside her milk. Around 8-10 weeks, weaning begins, and the young squirrel’s diet progresses to be more varied. And by 10-12 weeks, they will begin foraging for their own food, including fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables in the wild.

    How to feed grey squirrels

    • Feeding squirrels in their own part of the garden with a good quality squirrel food mix can deter them from approaching the bird feeders.
    • Be careful to avoid squirrels seeing where the bird/squirrel food is stored. They are very capable of ‘breaking and entering’ the home through doors, windows and house eaves.
    • To protect bird feeders, you can apply squirrel baffles and fit cages or purchase purpose-built squirrel-proof feeders such as the squirrel buster.
    • Buy 100% guaranteed squirrel-proof squirrel buster bird feeders. They cost a little more, but you quickly get your money back through savings in food!
    • Feeding squirrels from a squirrel feeder in a quiet corner of the garden can help keep them out of the flower and veg plot.
    • Where squirrels are a nuisance and physical barriers are not possible, a good coating of chilli powder or hot chilli sauce will put them off feeding without damaging plants or property.
    • Coating bird food with chilli powder or hot chilli sauce will put off squirrels but is tasteless to birds, who will continue to consume the food without hesitation.

    Is it legal to feed squirrels in the UK?

    It is legal to feed squirrels in the UK. However, supplementary feeding should be done responsibly. Providing food for squirrels in your garden can be a delightful way to enjoy local wildlife. Just ensure you’re feeding them with the right foods, and always in moderation.

    What do squirrels eat in the summer and winter?

    Squirrels will accept food at any time of year. As squirrels do not hibernate, they often cache food such as fruit and nuts for the winter, so you can help supplement their winter diet by offering the same.

    Best time of day to feed squirrels

    Both grey and red squirrels are diurnal and most active during the day. You can usually spot them during the early hours of the morning when it is quiet and late afternoon before sunset.

    How much do squirrels eat?

    On average, depending on activity level and age, a squirrel needs around 180 calories a day. Grey squirrels might eat up to 80g (3 oz) of food a day, which equates to roughly 10% of their body weight. Red squirrels eat a lot less, approximately 18g (0.6 oz.) a day or 5% of their body weight.

    What can grey squirrels drink?

    Squirrels do drink water, and can often be spotted drinking from the garden bird bath. In the wild grey squirrels mainly get water from dew, rain and plants, or water-filled hollows of trees or small puddles or streams. Generally speaking, squirrels don’t require large volumes of water as they are often foraging in dew-soaked surroundings or getting hydration from the foods they eat.

    What can grey squirrels not eat?

    Obviously, you shouldn’t give squirrels any food considered bad for us humans. So no junk food such as pizza or sugary snacks.

    And while they love nuts, you should be careful to not offer them any sweetened or salted nuts. If you want to give them some corn, stick to small amounts, squirrels are known to overeat corn and mouldy/sour corn can kill them.

    Squirrels also tend to avoid several flower bulbs in the wild, these include daffodils, snowdrops and hyacinths. Raw onion and garlic are another food squirrels dislike, alongside the heat and spice of chilli powder.

    Pros and cons of feeding squirrels

    • Watching squirrels up close can be a fantastic way to bring joy to wildlife enthusiasts and allow them to learn more about the charming characteristics and habits of these small mammals. It can also be a brilliant chance to take photographs
    • Feeding squirrels can provide support during harsh seasons when natural food sources are limited
    • It can help raise awareness of how important it is to protect and conserve our wildlife and their natural habitats
    • Feeding squirrels should be approached with responsibility and we must avoid overfeeding or giving inappropriate foods that can lead to dependency or health issues

    FAQs about what squirrels eat

    Here are some of the most common questions about squirrel’s diets and some helpful answers.

    Can squirrels eat human food?

    Squirrels can eat some of the food humans consume such as nuts, seeds, fruit, and vegetables. However, squirrels shouldn’t be given human food that is processed or high in sugar and salt. Use specialist grey squirrel food to ensure squirrels gain the nutrients they need alongside a balanced diet.

    Do squirrels eat meat?

    Yes, squirrels can eat meat, but will only really eat meat such as baby birds, mice and small snakes if their usual food source of nuts, seeds and plants is in low supply

    Do squirrels eat hedgehog food?

    Squirrels and hedgehogs have different dietary requirements so it’s important to give them the correct food. Hedgehog food is formulated to meet the needs of hedgehogs, and although some of the food they enjoy overlaps, we wouldn’t advise giving squirrels hedgehog food. If putting hedgehog food out you should be aware it can attract other wildlife, so using a hedgehog feeding station and leaving squirrel food in a separate part of the garden is the best approach.

    Do squirrels eat fruits?

    Yes, squirrels do eat fruits. Fruit forms a natural part of a squirrel’s diet and can provide a source of vitamins and minerals. Squirrels enjoy berries such as blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, apples, pears and grapes. Be mindful to only offer fruits in moderation and to wash off any pesticides on the fruit. 

    Can squirrels eat sweets or chocolate?

    No, squirrels shouldn’t eat sweets or chocolate. They contain ingredients that can be harmful to squirrels and other wildlife. Chocolate in particular has a toxic substance that can cause health issues for animals and sweets have a high sugar content so are best kept as a treat for us humans only!

    Do squirrels eat birds or their eggs?

    Squirrels primarily eat plant-based foods, but there are instances where squirrels may show opportunistic behaviour by eating small birds or their eggs, especially when their usual food sources are limited.  Bird eggs can provide a good source of calcium too. Squirrels aren’t considered a natural predator to birds or their eggs, but if you are concerned consider measures to protect bird nests to make them less accessible to squirrels.

    Do squirrels eat vegetables?

    Yes, squirrels do enjoy eating vegetables and may eat them in moderation. They might indulge in leafy greens such as spinach and kale, carrots to munch on, peaks and broccoli to snack on. If offering vegetables to squirrels always make sure the vegetables are clean and free from pesticides, and offer alongside a balanced diet.

    How do I detract squirrels from feeding?

    We get as many calls asking how to ‘get rid’ of squirrels as we do about how to care for them. So here’s our words of warning. The grey squirrel is now one of the UK’s commonest mammals with a population estimated in excess of 2 million. If you remove a family of squirrels from your garden, nature will simply make sure others quickly move in to fill the void. It’s probably far easier to learn to live with our inquisitive, acrobatic North American cousins than wage a war against them that can never be won!

     

    External sources/references

    The grey squirrel – a guide by the BTO
    Feeding squirrels – a guide by the RSPCA

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