Nature lovers, of whom you are no doubt a part, enjoy watching animals and may experience situations that require intervention, such as treating an injured animal. You may also just want to draw them in for a closer look. Food is a first choice bait because their hunger or gluttony often leads them to overcome their mistrust, to overcome their fear. But how can you be sure to choose the foods that suit them, without fear of making a mistake?
In this article, we talk about the squirrel, to identify the foods in its diet and those that should not be given to it.
Getting to know the squirrel better
When we speak of squirrel, in France, it is the red squirrel. It is the only native squirrel in our country and it is a protected species (since 1981). The species is not threatened ; however, the population density is generally quite low. Squirrels are mostly found in wooded areas with deciduous, larch, pine and fir trees, in gardens near homes, and in some city parks.
A stealthy animal, we can easily see it jumping from branch to branch in the distance, but it is much rarer to observe it standing still and up close. It moves in fact at the level of the foliage of trees, where it has the most chance of escaping its predators, but it searches for its food on the ground.
The red squirrel does not hibernate and can therefore be observed all year round, during the day, as soon as the sun rises and until it goes down. During very cold periods, however, it remains willingly in its nest; its appearances are rarer, as well as in the event of strong winds or heavy rains.
What does a red squirrel eat?
The red squirrel is a rodent. Its dentition is made up of incisors, premolars and molars; the canines are missing, leaving a toothless area called a diastema. The incisors are continuously growing, wearing out only through chewing in which the upper incisors rub against the lower incisors. They are enameled only on one side, on the outside of the tooth. The interior, less resistant, wears more easily, which leads to give the incisors a bevelled shape. Maintaining such a dentition requires regular gnawing of foods that are hard enough to wear them out.
The squirrel is a opportunistic, that is to say, he is able to adapt his diet to what he finds. He knows how to take advantage of each season and, over a year, his diet is very varied. He is very fond of pine cones, which he can, in certain regions, find all year round. In spring, it gnaws tender twigs and the bark of young shoots, eats buds. They can cause extensive damage to trees and shrubs, for which foresters have long considered them to be pests. In summer, it focuses on the fruits, berries and flowers of the forest. Fall is the season of reservations. He looks for seeds of conifers, beechnuts, chestnuts, acorns, hazelnuts, walnuts…, which he consumes or buries. Its incisors allow it to open the nuts and hazelnuts of which it consumes the almond. The squirrel also eats mushrooms, which it will have let dry beforehand. In winter, it consumes its reserves and what it finds in its environment. In case of lack, and depending on the season, it can ingest proteins of animal origin: occasionally chicks or eggs, a little more frequently snails or insects.
What foods are toxic to squirrels?
Any toxic food given to a squirrel is all the more harmful as rodents have anatomical disability to vomit.
Chocolate is one of the foods that are very popular with humans and yet should be banned from the diet of animals in general, including that of domestic animals. It indeed contains theobromine, a cardiac stimulant which can be harmful depending on the amount ingested by the animal.
Another common food in human diet: cow’s milk. It causes problems when the animal does not have the enzymes capable of digesting lactose, which is the case with the squirrel.
If you are looking to get closer to the squirrel’s natural diet, you may be tempted to pick up some plants from the garden. However, you must always take precautions because many of them secrete or contain toxic substances. This is the case of the branches and leaves of cherry laurel which cause digestive disorders and can lead to death, or even oleander and white laurel, which can cause convulsions. It is difficult to compile a complete list of poisonous plants in the garden. The easiest way is to carry out a preliminary research.
Can you feed a squirrel?
Beyond the list of toxic foods for the squirrel, it is interesting to ask the question of the necessity or the usefulness of feeding a squirrel. And in reality, it is better to avoid feeding them.
Many people want to “help” animals when the cold season arrives. Yet they do not need human intervention. They have developed strategies that allow them to ensure their survival in the environment in which they have taken up residence, otherwise they simply would not live there! Most often, if we show honesty, we will discover that our desire to help animals is above all to please us.
However, specialists insist on the fact that the feeding of wild animals disrupts their autonomy and puts them in danger. If the squirrel quickly understands its interest in getting closer to human dwellings, it is more exposed to cats and dogs and increases its chances of dying when run over by a vehicle.
Even more important is not to feed or drink anything to a squirrel in distress. You cannot know what he is really suffering from; and feeding him can cost him his life. Better to transport it delicately as is to a veterinarian, without trying to do more.