The North American tree squirrels are the most common in cities, neighborhoods, and outdoor spaces in the United States.
To most homeowners, acorns are a nuisance as they give the yard an unkempt look and attract critters.
If you have acorns in your yard, you must be wondering, do squirrels eat acorns? The answer is a resounding yes. Squirrels do eat acorns.
Why do squirrels eat acorns?
Acorns are loaded with tannins, and they are easier to crack than other harder nuts.
Tannins are a source of energy which not only gives the squirrels energy to live, but also energy to scatter hoard acorns for a later date.
While tannins provide squirrels with energy, they also make them short-tempered as the tannins bring out the worst in their behavior.
How do squirrels eat acorns?
For us to understand how squirrels eat acorns, we first have to understand the composition of acorns. Acorns have a tasty fat at the top and tannins—bitter-tasting chemicals at the bottom.
The bottom also has the embryo, the part that grows.
The top of the acorn is like a fruit, and this is what attracts the animals. When the squirrel picks up the acorn, it rolls it then shakes it.
According to Steele, a co-author of “North American Tree Squirrels,” the purpose of shaking the acorn is to tell whether the acorn is healthy to eat.
Healthy acorns are often filled with weevils. By shaking the acorn, the squirrels have an idea of what is inside. If it has weevils, they immediately eat the acorn.
If the acorn doesn’t have weevils, the squirrel will bury the acorn to eat later.
While squirrels eat acorns, not all acorns are equally palatable. Acorns produced by trees in the white oak family (swamp white oak, bur oak, white oak, chestnut oak, and chinquapin oak) are less fatty, lower in tannins, and tasty.
As you can see here, Native Americans crushed the acorn meats to make acorn flour.
Since white acorns are tasty, squirrels eat the entire white acorn.
Acorns produced by the red oak family (pin oak, black oak, red oak, scarlet oak, and willow oak) are rich in fats but are laced with plenty of bitter tannins.
In a Science daily experiment, researchers found that squirrels only ate the top half of the red acorns. The part furthest from the embryo.
Do squirrels eat the whole acorn?
Most of the squirrels will eat the entire white acorn but will eat half of the red acorn. This is due to the massive amounts of tannins that are more packed near the bottom of the acorns, where the embryo is located.
When squirrels find a pile of acorns in your yard, they will eat 85% of the white oak acorns and only 40% of red oaks.
What do squirrels eat besides acorns?
Squirrels are herbivores, but they aren’t picky eaters so that they will feed on any readily available food. Some of these foods include:
Fruits and vegetables
They will eat any fruits and vegetables, but their favorites are mushrooms, broccoli, squash, and corn. They also enjoy eating avocados, oranges, apples, and apricots.
The critters will also eat other delicious vegetables such as beans, peas, okra, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, asparagus, and any other thing that they can get their hungry paws on.
Nuts are an optimal source of proteins and fat for squirrels, and they are incredibly passionate about them.
They will enthusiastically collect and eat walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pine nuts, hickory nuts, pine nuts, macadamia nuts, chestnuts, and pistachios.
If fruits or nuts are in short supply, squirrels won’t hesitate to eat small insects to satisfy their need for protein. Some of the insects that the critters feed on include: larvae, winged bugs, injured butterflies, grasshoppers, and crickets.
Eggs aren’t their favorite foods, but when the other food sources are hard to come by, the squirrel will take what it can get. They will sometimes steal eggs from other animals, or even your chicken coop.
If necessary, the critters will prey on blackbird eggs, robin eggs, and many others. When worse comes to worst, the squirrels will eat young chicks, hatchlings, baby birds, and carcasses of chicks that might have fallen from their nests.
If you live in areas infested by squirrels, a hungry squirrel will root around the dirty basket sampling for cake scraps, tossed sandwich crusts, and any other thing that you might have thrown there.
Squirrels are natural hoarders, and you will find them digging holes and hiding their food in multiple locations. They do this to store food for winter.
The critters also dig “fake” storage holes and place no food in them. The purpose of doing this is to ensure that no other animals discover the location of their real food stashes.
So if you are one of the people wondering, what do squirrels eat in winter? They eat the foods that they have stored away during the good months. They will also find any other foods that might be available during the cold season.
What do baby squirrels eat?
Newborn squirrels feed on the mother’s milk. They don’t leave the nest until after 40 days, and they are fully weaned for another 50-70 days.
Do red and grey squirrels eat the same thing?
Yes, they eat the same foods. The main difference between the two types is their memory.
While both the red and grey squirrels will bury their food supplies, the red squirrels will forget where they buried, so you will often find the grey squirrels stealing the red squirrel’s food stashes.
What don’t squirrels eat?
While they aren’t choosy, there are few food materials that they don’t like at all. They include: raw onions, raw garlic, and hot peppers such as Anaheim peppers, Serrano peppers, and jalapenos.
If you don’t like squirrels destroying your fruits and vegetable, you can use pepper spray to keep the critters out of your prized garden. Garlic spray is also an excellent deterrent to keep off the hungry, brazen squirrels.
Nutty facts about squirrels
- Squirrels don’t dig up all of their bullied acorns and nuts which results to more trees
- The critters put on weight to stay warm during the winter
- Squirrels often lose up to 25% of their buried foods to thieves
- Squirrels often pretend to bury food to throw off potential thieves
- The critters can find food buried beneath a foot of snow. This is due to their excellent sense of smell.
Fun facts about acorns
- There are over 90 species of oaks in North America, and all oaks have acorns
- There is nothing like acorn tree
- Acorns belonging to trees in the red oak group take two growing seasons to mature while acorns in the white oak group mature in one season.
- Oak trees have greenish, inconspicuous female flowers that are wind-pollinated
- One huge oak can drop up to 10,000 acorns in a mast year that you have to collect with an acorn rake or acorn vacuum
- Oak trees in North America produce more nuts annually than any other nut trees together, wild and cultivated.