You know I am a huge fan of dogs and cats, having dedicated my life to them- but what you may not know is how much I love squirrels (and lemurs) too!
I have volunteered with wildlife organizations in the past (most recently Footprints Wildlife, in Redmond, WA), where I have been able to feed baby and juvenile squirrels. I have learned a lot about them and what they need to grow up healthy and strong, and shared my experience with OutdoorHappens.com who wrote an article about what you should and shouldn't feed them in your yard.
Check out the full article here, and an excerpt of my contribution here:
What NOT to Feed Squirrels
I know, I know; we’ve already established that squirrels are ready to eat pretty much anything, so why are there foods that we shouldn’t feed these little guys?
Well, this species is prone to something called MBD, or Metabolic Bone Disease. If they feast on too much junk food, they could be put at risk of health complications – perhaps they’re more similar to us than we think!
Motley Zoo recommends a proper balance of calcium and phosphorus for squirrels to avoid MBD. Jme says: “There should be as much or more calcium than phosphorous or else the squirrel’s body will begin to pull calcium from their bones instead, leading to a decline and potential death.” She does say that MBD can potentially be turned around if the squirrel is not too far gone, especially with proper exposure to sunlight.
Honestly, you could probably hold out an ice cream cone and they’d probably lick the cream from your hand, but you should absolutely steer clear of heavily-processed human foods. Also, you’ll want to avoid overdoing the sunflower seeds and peanuts. Many people think these are great for squirrels, but the truth is that they have poor nutritional value, plus peanuts can harbor poisonous mold that is bad for squirrels.
Jme from Motley Zoo agrees that much of what we feed squirrels is not great for them, even if the squirrels love them.
Peanuts is such an example, she says. “Almost any other nut- except brazil nuts and chestnuts- is much better for squirrels than peanuts. Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, and pecans are beloved favorites- especially in their shells. Never feed salted nuts as this is unnecessary and too much sodium for them.”
Casper Ohm, marine biologist and editor-in-chief at water-pollution.org.uk, raises a good point as to whether we should feed the visiting wildlife.
She states: “The debate of ‘should we feed the wildlife that visits our backyards’ continues to rise since even the United States Department of Agriculture says that feeding wild animals could be bad for their health. “Wild animals have specialized diets, and they can become malnourished or even die if fed the wrong foods,” states the USDA.”
“However, some are in favor of feeding the wildlife that visits them (squirrels in the majority of the cases), but never without researching what is good and bad for them.”
One final thing to remember is that for squirrels, as it is for us, variety is key. Ark Wildlife says it well:
The thing to remember is if all we ate was peanuts, we’d become ill pretty quickly too. A varied diet is the key to good health and the supplementary feeding of a few peanuts to wild animals will do far more good than harm. The potential for harm only occurs when squirrels (and particularly their young) start to depend on peanuts as a staple over a varied foraged diet.