Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:55 pm
Squirrels are wild animals that look for their own food. In summer, nature is a well-stocked treasure trove. In winter, on the other hand, they have to draw on their own food reserves, because these small rodents do not hibernate. But even with the best planning, the food supply doesn’t always run smoothly during the cold season. Hunger can quickly set in. Find out here when it is worth feeding squirrels and what is on the menu of these climbing artists.
Yes, what are squirrels fed with anyway? The fact that these tree climbers collect hazelnuts, walnuts and acorns is probably known to most people. Here are a few additions:
- Sunflower seeds
- seeds of spruces, pines and firs
- small pieces of apples, pears and carrots
- animal food such as larvae
- food from the supermarket
In the meantime there is special mixed food for squirrels in the trade. It consists mostly of unsalted peanuts and sunflower seeds as well as dried fruit pieces. However, animal rights activists advise against feeding peanuts to squirrels because peanuts are not a native plant species. Peanuts are therefore not part of a species-appropriate diet.
Note: Almonds are also not suitable food, because they contain prussic acid. It can be dangerous to the animals in larger quantities.
Necessary preliminary considerations
But before you now hurriedly fill the feeding bowl and put it outside, you should also carefully read the rest of the text. It elaborates on the necessity of feeding. You will also discover information about the period in which supplementary feeding can be useful. Lastly, it is important to arrange the feeding schedule so that it really benefits the rodents.
Squirrels, scientifically Sciurus vulgaris, are diligent gatherers who are aware of the limited availability of food. Therefore, they create numerous hiding places in time, including reserves. It seems that these animals are well prepared for the lean time of the year. But some factors can lead to a prolonged shortage that can cost some animals their lives.
Squirrels burrow their food into shallow hollows in the ground and dig it out again when needed. Winter weather can throw a wrench in their plans.
- Blankets of snow cover the landscape
- cover important landmarks
- make it difficult to find hiding places again
- sub-zero temperatures freeze the ground
- digging up food becomes tedious or even impossible
If the previous summer was very hot and dry, fewer fruits and seeds are formed. Consequently, the amount of food collected cannot adequately meet the squirrel’s winter needs. At the same time, other animals also suffer from food shortages. While in the forest wild boars first sniff out one hiding place or another and then empty it, in the garden at home it is mainly mice that turn into thieves of stored food.
Some specimens nowadays permanently inhabit urban areas. We often see them flitting from tree to tree. But the planting of many gardens provides little edible food for these rodents. Added to this is the urge of some garden owners to keep things tidy in the fall. Thus, edible seed stalks are disposed of and landmarks that serve to locate hiding places later are destroyed.
Sciurus vulgaris is not an endangered species. During food-poor winters, the rodent population may decline, but recovers in fat years. That’s why humans don’t need to feed the squirrels. And in fact, hardly anyone thinks of feeding forest animals. In residential areas the situation is different. Because of the fact that we meet the animals up close, compassion quickly arises.
Higher energy demand
In winter, the animal is sparing with its energy budget. It leaves the hutch only for a few hours to get food. The rest of the time it spends sleeping at home. But one unavoidable task considerably increases a female’s demand: reproduction.
The orange-brown rodents mate as early as December and have their first young in February. So it is understandable that they need sufficient nutritious food for themselves and their young during this time.
When does supplementary feeding make sense?
When exactly should we intervene to help? A good question. There are those who advocate year-round supplemental feeding in urban areas because the natural food supply there is more scarce than in the wild. Most animal welfare groups, on the other hand, recommend supplemental feeding of squirrels only when necessary, i.e., in the winter.
There are also repeated warnings that abundant and constantly available food could make the animals lazy and they neglect their own gathering. This aspect must be considered when feeding.
Attracting an animal with food in hand may be a nice idea for nature lovers. But it is not in the sense of these animals. They should be disturbed as little as possible in their way of life. Developed confidingness can prove harmful in retrospect. If the animals do not pay more attention to their natural instinct, which protects them from danger.
In stores there are feeders specially designed for these rodents, which have an enlarged opening. Feeding boxes with a flap are also popular. The animals take pleasure in discovering this mechanism and opening the flap. The feeding station will be inexpensive if you build it yourself. This is a challenging task for children. Later you can watch the animals from a safe distance.
Set up feeding station
When setting up the feeding station, some rules should be followed:
- do not place it too close to human dwellings
- look for a quiet place for undisturbed feeding
- hang the feeding station in a cat-proof way or place it in a higher position
- ideal is tree suspension in at least 1.5 m height
Tip: If you have sighted several animals on your property, you should also set up several feeders, each with a larger distance between them. These rodents are loners outside their breeding season and like to fight!
Filling and care
Fill the feeder in time before the first frost. You can already collect suitable food such as acorns in the fall. Finding acorns in nature should not be difficult. But you can also find hazelnuts and beechnuts during a walk in the forest. If you can visit the feeding station every day, then you should not make it too full. Especially if you add pieces of fruit, they can rot quickly.
Clean the feeder as needed before adding new food. Leave nuts in their hard shells and pine cones whole so Sciurus vulgaris can “work” its teeth on them. If supplies run out, be sure to buy only natural fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Exactly what you feed them in the winter is up to you. But how about a longer lasting solution? Why not plant a hazelnut bush or a walnut tree? And feel free to leave old seed heads until spring. Birds will be happy, too.
Note: Always keep rain barrels covered with a lid to prevent squirrels from falling in. It may be a climber, but it will slide down a slick rain barrel wall and drown.