What to Feed Squirrels (and How to Peacefully Co-Exist)

Learn what to feed squirrels, along with seven helpful tips to help you live in harmony with these furry backyard critters.

An American red squirrel holding a nut in its paws.suefeldberg/Getty Images
An American red squirrel holds a nut in its paws.

Keeping squirrels out of your bird feeders or gardens can seem like a losing battle—and it probably is. (Psst—here are the best squirrel-proof bird feeders!) Urban tree squirrels live and look for food almost everywhere. So instead of waging a war you will not win, perhaps it’s time to learn what to feed squirrels, and how to live peacefully alongside the furry creatures.

“Squirrels are among the most commonly observed backyard mammals,” says Nichole Bjornlie, a nongame mammal biologist who is based out of Wyoming. “And they can be quite entertaining.”

Both Nichole and Tammi Hartung, co-owner of Desert Canyon Farm in Colorado, say you can be a good squirrel host while still preserving your gardens and bird feeders. Here are their hard-earned tips to feed squirrels and ensure a successful squirrel coexistence.

Create a Squirrel Feeder Space

One of the best ways to keep squirrels (and other wild critters) away from your gardens and feeders is to establish a feeding space just for them. Tammi places spoiled apples, corncobs and other unprocessed foods underneath a pear tree. Then instead of raiding all her trees, the hungry mammals tend to stick to one spot.

Check out these 13 funny squirrel photos that are just too cute.

Squirrel feederCourtesy Scott Hottle
If you can’t beat squirrels, feed them corn and nuts.

What to Feed Squirrels: Serve Corncobs

Consider placing corncobs or entire ears of corn on a platform or squirrel feeder. Squirrels will happily spend hours munching on the cobs, which not only keeps them out of your garden but also provides you with endless entertainment. Birds also appreciate the snack.

What to Feed Squirrels: Offer Nuts

The stereotypes are indeed true—squirrels love nuts. They enjoy eating most nuts, but Nichole recommends large varieties. Set out nuts with the shells still on to maximize their benefit for the squirrels (the gnawing keeps their teeth healthy) and the viewing fun for you. Birds love peanuts, too!

Provide Water

Squirrels get thirsty just like other wildlife. “They are notorious for chewing emitters and sprinkler tops,” Tammi says. “They can hear the water and can’t figure out how to get to it.” Her squirrels stopped nibbling when she placed a shallow dish of water about a foot off the ground. The water bowl also serves as a birdbath and place for other wild critters to drink.

Psst, here’s how to attract birds to use a birdbath.

Control Pets to Keep Squirrels Safe

Always keep your cats inside and your dogs contained. This benefits both squirrels and other neighborhood wildlife. 

Plant Sunflowers for Squirrels

Squirrels love sunflowers and will happily pilfer those seeds instead of your bird feeders or carefully cultivated plants. 

Learn About the Squirrels’ Habits

Take a cup of coffee or tea outside, sit in a lawn chair and watch your backyard world go by. Soon you’ll notice that squirrels take the same paths through your yard. They’re creatures of habit, just like us, Tammi says. Once you know where they tend to travel, plant or place food items and water along that path to keep them focused on what you want them to consume.

Next, learn how to make a DIY squirrel feeder.