How Do Squirrels Eat Their Food? Should I Continue Feeding Them?

  • By: Ray Johnson
  • Date: June 20, 2022
  • Time to read: 9 min.

Birds, squirrels, raccoons, and foxes can often be sighted in the yard. While watching these creatures in the yard is always entertaining, it is common to always have many unanswered questions about the creatures. If you have squirrels in your yard, you must have wondered how they eat their food and if they ever overfeed as they are always eating.

Squirrels eat food by gnawing and chewing. They have two upper incisors and two lower incisors that have chisel-like edges. The incisors grasp and cut the food before it proceeds to the molars that grind and crush it until it’s ideal for swallowing.

This article discusses squirrels eating habits. In addition, the article also looks at whether squirrels can overfeed, what happens if you stop feeding squirrels, and whether the squirrels are aware of who feeds them.

Squirrel Eating Nuts

How Squirrels Eat Their Food?

To understand how squirrels eat their food, we must first understand the type of food they eat and what makes it possible for them to eat it.

Many people are of the view that squirrels only eat plants. However, such views are incorrect since squirrels are omnivores. They eat both plants and meat. That said, they mainly like to eat seeds, nuts, fruits, and fungi as they are nutritious.

But when it’s tough for them to feed on their favorite food, the squirrels will eat eggs, small snakes, birds, and worms.

You might be wondering how squirrels can chew on nuts, eggs, and other tough items. Well, squirrels’ ability to chew hard objects comes from the four sharp yellow incisors at the front of the mouth.

The incisors are very important for gnawing since squirrels would find it hard to feed without them. The top and bottom incisors also need to be well aligned to rub against each other to remain sharp and of good size.

Different types of squirrels have different number of teeth. For example, tree squirrels have twenty teeth while Eastern squirrels have twenty-two teeth. However, it is essential to point out that all the squirrels have two upper incisors and two lower incisors.

As the squirrels’ teeth keep growing at all times, the squirrels have to continuously chew on hard objects so that the teeth are always sharp and at a proper length.

If you look closer at the front of the squirrel’s incisors, you will realize that they are coated with orange enamel. This enamel plays a vital role in sustaining the sharp cutting edges of the teeth.

To find food, squirrels rely on their incredible sense of smell, making it possible to find nuts, seeds, insects, and other food they feed on. Once they have found the food, the squirrels can feed by gnawing using the incisors or chewing using molars.

When eating nuts and other food with a hard exterior, squirrels use incisors that resemble a crowbar or chisel to gnaw a tiny hole at the top of the nut. Once there is a hole in the nut, the squirrels insert their incisors in the hole and force it to open from the top.

As the nut opens from the top, it splits in half with smooth edges. Even though the process might sound complicated and time-consuming, it is a swift process that takes a very short time.

Specifically, in one of the Autumn watch series by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), it was found that red squirrels can open and eat hazelnut in 22 seconds while other squirrels take only 10 seconds to eat the same nut.  

Squirrels feed by gnawing and chewing. To gnaw on food, the squirrels use incisors that resemble a crowbar, while molars are used for chewing.

Do Squirrels Chew Things?

Squirrel chewing leaves

Chewing is a process that involves crushing food with teeth. It is usually the first phase of digestion. It plays a significant role since it increases the surface area of foods to facilitate the effective breakdown of the food by enzymes in the digestion process.

Squirrels have two types of teeth that comprise incisors and molars. The squirrels have four incisors – two upper incisors and lower incisors. The incisors are long and chisel-shopped and can be easily seen at the front of the squirrel’s mouth.

The sharp edge of the incisors is used to grasp and cut the food. If they had no incisors, it would be hard for squirrels to crack hard nuts or bite into most of the food they feed on.

The upper and lower incisors of squirrels function as scissors. Since the incisors wear down slower than other teeth, the constant gnawing ensures they are always sharp with a chisel-like edge.

Incisors are very important to feeding squirrels to the extent that if an adult squirrel breaks one of its incisors, the squirrel would eventually die since it will not be able to feed properly.

Baby squirrels can survive broken incisors as the teeth can grow back as the baby squirrel grows and is fed by the mother.

The molars are squirrels’ teeth that chew most. The flat surfaces of the molars are ideal for grinding and crushing food until it is perfect to be swallowed by the squirrels.

Squirrels chew things regularly. If they stop chewing, their teeth which are constantly growing will get long to the extent that they would not be used to the squirrels. As a result, the squirrels will end up dying of starvation.

To sharpen their teeth and ensure they are of good length, squirrels have to gnaw and chew on different items at different times.

Do Squirrels Swallow Nuts?

Squirrel with nuts that will be opened up, chewed, and swallowed

If you have watched squirrels in the yard, you might have seen them packing a few nuts in their mouth and then running away. This might have made you wonder whether squirrels swallow nuts without chewing or breaking them apart.

When you see squirrels packing nuts in their mouth, they take the nuts to a place they feel is safe so they can bury them as food for the future. Besides, the squirrels could also take the nuts to the burrows, where they spend most of the winter.

For small-sized nuts, squirrels can eat the nut with or without the shell. However, since the squirrels need to sharpen their teeth and keep them at a good length, they mostly remove shells from the nut.

Even if squirrels can swallow nuts, they normally don’t swallow the nuts. They have to chew the nuts so that they are effectively digested. When hard nuts are swallowed, they can cause digestion issues.

Due to the nature of squirrels’ teeth, it is very rare for a squirrel to swallow anything without chewing.

Do Squirrels Eat All Day Long?

Most of the time you see a squirrel in your yard, the squirrel is either eating or looking for food. If you have bird feeders in your yard, you will have noticed the squirrel doing its best to access the feeders and eat whatever is inside. Such experiences might make you want to know whether squirrels eat the entire day.

With the exception of flying squirrels, the squirrels are diurnal. This means that the squirrels are always active during the day and then sleep at night. During the day, squirrels will always be looking for food and water.

Squirrels do not eat all day. They look for food, bury it in the ground, and also eat and drink during the day. They mainly forage for food for approximately four to six hours a day.

How Much Should A Squirrel Eat A Day?

Different types of squirrels eat differently. According to Wildlife Online UK, squirrels eat 5 – 10% of their body weight daily.

The table below shows the amount of food different types of squirrels should eat daily based on their weight.

Type of squirrelAverage Squirrels Body Weight In lbsAmount Of Food To Be Eaten In A Day In Lbs
Eastern Gray Squirrel1.50 lbs0.15
Western Gray Squirrel2.00 lbs0.094
Arizona Gray Squirrel1.25 lbs0.14
Eastern Fox Squirrel1.80 lbs0.034
American Red Squirrel0.45 lbs0.037
Southern Flying Squirrel0.49 lbs0.037
Table showing the average weight of squirrels and amount of food eaten in a day (Average squirrel body weight obtained from different sources)

Can You Overfeed A Squirrel?

Overfeeding a squirrel involves giving the squirrel too much food. You should not overfeed a squirrel. When overfed, squirrels will stop foraging for food and become dependent on the food provided.

Overfeeding a squirrel is a dangerous habit since when you are not around, and the squirrel cannot find the food it is used to receive from you, it will starve to death. You therefore should not overfeed a squirrel. Give them small bits of food so that they can search for the rest.

If you have overfed squirrels, you should do your best to ensure that the squirrel stops depending on the food you provide. Start by minimizing the food you feed the squirrels before stopping to completely feed them.

Since you can’t stop feeding the squirrels abruptly, put a minimal amount of food that you used to feed the squirrels in the feeders and scatter the rest on the ground. When the squirrel comes around and finds that the food on the feeders is less, it will eat the food on the ground.

Continue to do that for a few days until the squirrels get used to searching for their food. As days go by, the squirrel will get used to looking for its own food and will become less dependent on the food in the feeder.

Do Squirrels Know Who Feeds Them?

If you regularly feed the squirrel, it will know you and most likely befriend you

Squirrels have a very good memory. They bury nuts and seeds on the ground and collect them a few months later for food. Without a good memory, squirrels might find it hard to survive since they would not have enough food to survive winter.

Squirrels are aware of people that feed them and can even go to the length of befriending the people feeding them.

However, as I already mentioned, you should not overfeed a squirrel. An overfeed squirrel will become dependent on the food provided; if the person giving the food is not available, the squirrel might starve to death.

What Happens When You Stop Feeding Squirrels?

When you overfeed squirrels and you suddenly stop feeding them, the squirrels could starve to death Overfeed squirrels are dependent on the food provided to them. As they continue feeding on this food you provide, the squirrels perceive the food source as reliable and stop looking for food.

When you abruptly stop feeding them, squirrels are likely to starve to death since it will take them a long time to realize that the free food you used to give them is no longer available.

If you have been feeding your squirrels and want to stop, you should never abruptly stop feeding the squirrels. Before I moved out of my previous house, I gradually decreased the amount of food I was giving the squirrels and in three weeks, the squirrels had effectively gotten used to looking for their own food.

When you want to stop feeding squirrels, start by reducing the amount of food that you give the squirrels. Put small amounts of food on the feeders and then throw some nuts on the ground. As days go by, continue reducing the food till the point when you notice the squirrels are busy looking for their food on their own.


Squirrels in the backyard can offer a great sight especially when they search for nuts and crack them open. During winter, the determination shown by squirrels as they do their level best to ensure that they access bird feeders is just amazing to watch.

If you have squirrels in your yard, you should only give them small amounts of food. Do not overfeed the squirrels. They are wild animals and are supposed to look for their own food.

If you overfeed them for a while, they will become dependent on the food provided. When this food becomes unavailable, the squirrels are likely to starve to death as it will take them a long time to realize that they have to look for their own food.


Squirrel Refuge

BBC Autumn Watch


Wildlife Online UK

Science Daily