With their inquisitive nature and ability to access hard-to-reach areas, squirrels can be a nuisance to backyard bird nests. If you’ve spotted a squirrel raiding a birdhouse or stopping at a nest, you may wonder if your feathered friends’ eggs are at risk of becoming squirrel snacks.
If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: Yes, squirrels will eat bird eggs if they can reach nests, especially ground-level and open tree nests. However, eggs do not make up a significant part of their diet.
In this detailed article, we’ll look at why squirrels raid nests, which bird species are prime targets, ways to deter squirrels, and tips for protecting vulnerable eggs and nestlings in your yard.
Squirrel Diet and Foraging
Squirrels are highly adaptable creatures when it comes to their diet and foraging habits. They are omnivores, meaning they have the ability to consume both plant and animal matter. This adaptability allows them to survive in various environments and make use of the available food sources.
Omnivores who adapt to available food sources
Squirrels have a diverse diet that can vary depending on their habitat and the time of year. While they are known for their fondness for nuts, such as acorns and walnuts, they also consume a wide range of other foods. These include fruits, seeds, fungi, buds, flowers, and even tree bark.
Their ability to adapt to different food sources is essential for their survival, especially during seasons when certain foods may be scarce.
Favor nuts, fruits, fungi, insects and more
Nuts are a favorite food for squirrels, and they have developed impressive foraging techniques to obtain them. They have strong jaws and sharp teeth that enable them to crack open nuts and extract the meat inside.
In addition to nuts, squirrels also enjoy feasting on fruits such as berries and apples. They are known to raid bird feeders and gardens in search of these tasty treats. Squirrels also have a taste for fungi and insects, which provide them with essential nutrients and protein.
Opportunistically eat eggs and nestlings
Although squirrels primarily rely on plant-based foods, they are opportunistic eaters and will consume animal matter when the opportunity arises. This includes eggs and nestlings of birds. While squirrels do not actively seek out bird eggs, they may eat them if they come across a nest during their foraging activities.
It is important to note that the consumption of bird eggs by squirrels is not a common occurrence and is more of an opportunistic behavior rather than a regular part of their diet.
Why Squirrels Target Bird Nests
Squirrels have long been known for their resourcefulness when it comes to finding food. While their diet is primarily composed of nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables, they have also been observed targeting bird nests for eggs.
This behavior may seem peculiar, but there are several reasons why squirrels are drawn to bird nests.
Instinct to seek out concentrated protein
One reason squirrels target bird nests is their instinctual drive to seek out concentrated sources of protein. Bird eggs are packed with nutrients and provide a quick and easily digestible meal for squirrels.
This instinct is deeply ingrained in their DNA, as their ancestors relied on protein-rich food sources to survive.
Bird eggs are an accessible food source
Another reason why squirrels go after bird eggs is the accessibility factor. Bird nests are often built in trees or shrubs, making them easily accessible for squirrels to reach. Squirrels are agile climbers and can navigate tree branches with ease, allowing them to reach bird nests that are out of reach for other predators.
Nests provide stimuli that attract squirrels
Squirrels are naturally attracted to stimuli such as sounds, movement, and scent. Bird nests provide all of these stimuli, making them irresistible to curious squirrels. The rustling of leaves and twigs, the movement of birds coming and going from the nest, and the scent of nesting materials all serve to attract squirrels to the area.
While squirrels targeting bird nests may be frustrating for bird enthusiasts, it is important to remember that it is simply a part of their natural behavior. Taking steps to deter squirrels, such as installing squirrel-proof bird feeders or placing barriers around nests, can help protect bird eggs while still allowing squirrels to find other sources of food.
Nests and Eggs Most at Risk
Squirrels are notorious for their ability to raid nests and consume the eggs of birds. This behavior can have a significant impact on bird populations, especially those that build their nests on or near the ground.
There are several types of nests that are particularly vulnerable to squirrel predation.
Ground nests with limited protection
Ground nests, such as those made by certain ground-nesting birds like the Killdeer or the American Robin, are particularly at risk. These nests are often little more than a simple depression in the ground, making them easy targets for squirrels.
Without much protection or the ability to hide their eggs effectively, these ground-nesting birds are more susceptible to losing their eggs to squirrels.
Open nests accessible from branches
Another type of nest that squirrels target is the open nest that is accessible from branches. Birds like the Northern Cardinal or the American Robin often build their nests in trees or shrubs, where they are exposed to potential squirrel attacks.
Squirrels are agile climbers and can easily reach these nests, making it difficult for the birds to protect their eggs.
Early and mid-season nests
Squirrels tend to be more active in early spring and mid-season when bird nests are more abundant. During these times, squirrel populations are often seeking out food sources, and bird eggs become a tempting and easily accessible meal.
This puts nests built during these times at a higher risk of being raided by squirrels.
It’s important to note that not all bird nests are at risk from squirrel predation. Some birds have evolved strategies to protect their eggs, such as building nests in hidden or inaccessible locations.
Additionally, certain species of birds, like woodpeckers, have strong nesting structures that can withstand squirrel attacks.
If you are interested in learning more about bird nests and squirrel predation, you can visit Audubon.org for more information.
Deterring Squirrels from Bird Nests
Squirrels are known to be opportunistic feeders and may occasionally target bird eggs in their search for food. However, there are several effective methods to deter squirrels from bird nests and protect the eggs from being eaten.
Pruning branches around nest sites
One way to discourage squirrels from accessing bird nests is by pruning the branches around the nest sites. Squirrels are agile climbers and can easily access nests located in trees or shrubs. By trimming back branches that provide easy access, you can make it more difficult for squirrels to reach the nests.
This simple step can significantly reduce the risk of squirrel predation on bird eggs.
Scare devices like predator decoys
Another effective method to deter squirrels from bird nests is by using scare devices such as predator decoys. These decoys mimic natural predators of squirrels, such as owls or hawks, and can help create a sense of danger for the squirrels.
Placing these decoys near the nest sites can make squirrels think twice before attempting to access the nests. It is important to regularly move the decoys to maintain their effectiveness.
Providing alternative protein sources
Squirrels often target bird eggs as a source of protein. By providing alternative protein sources in your yard, you can help redirect their attention away from the bird nests. This can be done by placing squirrel feeders filled with nuts or seeds in a different area of your yard.
By offering them a readily available food source, you can minimize their desire to raid bird nests for eggs.
Remember that it is important to implement multiple deterrence methods in combination for the best results. By pruning branches, using scare devices, and providing alternative protein sources, you can create a squirrel-proof environment for the birds and their nests.
Unique Traits and Behaviors of Squirrels
Their teeth constantly grow to compensate for wear
Squirrels have an interesting adaptation when it comes to their teeth. Unlike humans, their teeth never stop growing. This is because their teeth constantly wear down due to their diet, which mainly consists of nuts, seeds, and other hard foods.
To compensate for this, squirrels’ teeth continue to grow throughout their lives. This allows them to maintain sharp and strong teeth that are essential for cracking open their food sources.
Excellent problem-solving abilities
Squirrels are known for their clever problem-solving skills. Whether it’s finding creative ways to access food or navigating complex environments, squirrels have shown remarkable intelligence. They can quickly adapt to new situations and come up with innovative solutions.
For example, when faced with a bird feeder that is designed to keep them out, squirrels have been observed using their problem-solving abilities to outsmart the device and still gain access to the food.
They often have two litters per year
Squirrels are prolific breeders and can have two litters per year. This means that they have the potential to reproduce and increase their population rapidly. The first litter typically arrives in early spring, while the second litter is born in late summer or early fall.
This reproductive strategy ensures that there is a continuous supply of young squirrels to maintain the population.
While squirrels can pose a threat to vulnerable nests, understanding their motivations and deterring access can reduce conflicts. Protecting delicate bird eggs ensures future generations of your favorite feathered residents.