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Squirrel Facts

The bird feeders’ war with the squirrels has raged for many years. Bird feeders all over the world know what a formidable opponent squirrels can be. Many mechanical devices have been marketed to deter squirrels. None are 100% effective, most are obtrusive and some are down right dangerous. A man in Minneapolis, Minnesota was arrested for unloading his shotgun on the squirrels in his backyard. Fortunately, the charges were ultimately dropped, but it shows the frustration that squirrels can cause.

Understanding squirrel behavior alone may not rid your backyard birdfeeder of these voracious critters, but it may increase your appreciation for their abilities. Squirrels belong to the order Rodentia, which contains over 1650 species. Rodentia is the largest group of living mammals and members of Rodentia can be found throughout the world. Squirrels inhabit every continent except Australia and Antarctica, evidence that squirrels are part of a very successful lineage.

Squirrels cause millions of dollars of damage every year. Rodents are born to gnaw. Their incisors never stop growing, so they must chew constantly to keep them worn down. Squirrels chew through phone and electrical lines, ruin gardens, kill trees, damage feeders beyond recognition, and often eat large quantities of seed put out for the birds. The stripping of wire insulation by squirrels that find their way inside homes has been known to start house fires. Squirrels are very aggressive critters and numerous squirrel bites are reported each year. Squirrels have been known to carry rabies. Infection from bites is the biggest concern, as several varieties of bacteria (including those that cause tetanus and salmonella) are found in the squirrel’s mouth. As admirable and entertaining as they may be, it cannot be forgotten that squirrels are wild animals, and have little concern for human interests.

No single attribute makes squirrels as resourceful as they are. It is a combination of physical and behavioral adaptations that gives them an ability to obtain and consume just about anything they desire. The average gray squirrel will usually eat between 30 and 60 plant species throughout the year. The will eat nuts, seeds, fruit, flowers, mushrooms, and buds. Hickory Nut is generally regarded as its favorite meal, and unfortunately for birds and those that feed them, black oil sunflower seed is also on its list of favorites. When food is scarce, squirrels have even been known to eat insects, bird eggs, and carrion (decaying animals). This is extremely unusual behavior for an animal generally considered an herbivore (plant eating animal). This flexibility of diet increases survivability, allowing them to alter eating routines especially when a particular food source becomes unavailable or less palatable (e.g. Squirrel Free Wild Birdseed).

With so many food sources to choose from, one wonders why squirrels are so frequently sighted at bird feeders. This can be attributed to several things. First and foremost, bird feeders offer a tidy supply of a variety of feeds in relatively large quantities. Additionally, squirrels spend a surprisingly large amount of time looking for food to satisfy their body’s energy requirements. The amount of time a squirrel spends foraging changes with the seasons and availability of food, but always entails a significant part of a squirrel’s day. During the peak of winter, squirrels spend nearly 75% of their time foraging. In August, time spent foraging drops to about 30%.

Gray squirrels can eat all day long, but are most frequently seen feeding early in the morning and mid afternoon. They can eat up to three ounces of food per sitting, and on average eat about a pound and a half of food per week. Considering the weight of the average squirrel (approximately a pound to a pound and a half), this is a considerably large quantity of food. As a comparison, a 150 pound human would have to eat 150 pounds weekly to match the appetite of a squirrel. This would amount to about 600 fast food style hamburgers in the same stretch of time. That’s 85 burgers a day. With all that eating, it’s no surprise that squirrels rarely seem to leave the bird feeder.

Another reason squirrels are regularly spotted is population. People frequently assume that the one or two squirrels they see at their feeder are just that, one or two squirrels. Squirrels usually nest in groups of about 6 or 7. Depending on availability of food, there may be several nests in the area. Furthermore, squirrels have a range of up to seven acres, so some of the squirrels seen at feeders may actually be from a distance away.

Along with a seemingly insatiable appetite, squirrels are extremely cunning and physically equipped to negotiate the most challenging of obstacles. Anyone who has ever tried to outwit a squirrel with a mechanical device knows how difficult this can be. Squirrels can climb polished steel poles. They can leap more than 6 feet. Their tails give them phenomenal balance, allowing them to effortlessly cross long lengths of thin wire. They can dig and, yes, they can even swim. Building a moat to protect your feeder from squirrels is not the answer.

Squirrel Free products offer a non-toxic, all natural, organic solution to keeping your wild bird feed exclusively for the birds.

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