Feeding Red Squirrels
In the wild, red squirrels eat a variety of seeds, nuts, fungi, bark, buds and berries. These are not always in abundant supply so supplementary feeding of hazel nuts and peanuts is strongly recommended. A few sunflower hearts will also appeal to red squirrels. A constant, reliable source of food will encourage squirrels to visit your garden regularly.
When to feed:
Red squirrels do not hibernate and need feeding throughout the year. In severe winter weather they may stay in their nest for a few days but they cannot survive more than a short time without food. If they expend energy visiting your feeders it is vital that there is food available, so it is important to keep your feeders topped up daily.
It is also important to provide supplementary food in spring and early summer as well as in winter, as these are periods are when their natural food, such as nuts and berries, are scarce. Supplementary feeding enhances the possibility of a squirrel having two litters of babies a year and thereby maintaining or increasing the red squirrel population.
Squirrel feeders that accommodate hazel and mixed nuts are available from several local sources (see below). Squirrels readily take peanuts from bird feeders. If possible, position your feeders where squirrels can approach them along a hedge or via trees; they will cross open ground if they know there is a source of food but they are at greater risk from predators.
Squirrels also enjoy a drink of water from a bird bath or shallow water bowl. Remember to clean the feeders and water bowls regularly with a bird/animal friendly antiviral disinfectant such as Virkon S, to minimize any risk of infections spreading.
- Squirrel feeders, made by and sold on behalf of Coquetdale Squirrel Group, can be purchased from Alderson’s Hardware Store in Rothbury and the Star Inn, Harbottle.
- Feeders may also be sold at some garden centres but they are more expensive.
- Virkon S can be purchased from Robson & Cowan at Scots Gap or from other agricultural suppliers.
Hazel nuts: Only put a handful of hazel nuts in the feeder as they are expensive; the squirrels will eat only a few and then bury the remainder for future foraging. However, they rarely find the buried nuts later.
Coquetdale Squirrel Group sells 1 lb bags of hazel nuts from Alderson’s Hardware Store and The Star at Harbottle at a very competitive rate with all profits going towards the group’s work to conserve red squirrels.
- Small bags of hazel nuts can be purchased from Tully's Delicatessen in Rothbury, from Heighley Gate Garden Centre, near Morpeth, and from some pet stores.
- Bulk hazel nuts can be purchased from Poltross Enterprises, a family business based in Haltwhistle, or on-line from "The Birds' Bistro".
- Some garden centres and pet shops sell bags of mixed "squirrel food" but these are more suited to grey squirrels and include a lot of material that red squirrels won’t eat.
Red squirrels will generally give birth in Spring to around 3 babies. They may produce a second litter later in Summer.
Providing additional food in early Spring through Summer will keep the red squirrels in good health and increase the possibility of them having 2 litters per year.
Good luck with your Squirrel feeding!