Squirrels are among the most popular guests in our gardens. Here, you will learn everything you need to know about these small rodents and how to attract squirrels to your garden.
Squirrels actually live in coniferous and mixed forests and spend much of their time there. From time to time, however, you can observe these cute animals in your own garden. The busy animals jump from tree to tree in search of food and are exciting to watch. Also, their cute stature with a long, bushy tail and red ears make squirrels popular guests who are gladly welcomed into the garden. We reveal what you should know about squirrels and how to attract more squirrels to your garden through clever garden design, here.
Skilled acrobats, squirrels climb over twigs and branches and daringly jump up to five metres from tree to tree – the small animals ensure lively activity in the garden and are therefore extremely popular to observe, especially with children. Their bushy tail and reddish-brown colour are considered special identifying features. The former serves as a balancing pole during their daredevil climbing stunts, but also provides warmth in winter and is suitable for shade in summer. The reddish-brown coat, on the other hand, is not a definite sign of a squirrel: Brown-black and grey squirrels are common, as is the familiar fox red colour. Even pure white variants occur occasionally and are not, as often assumed, albinos.
A squirrel cannot be distinguished from its relative, the North American grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), by its colour alone. In fact, grey squirrels are much larger and stockier, and in addition, they do not have brush ears, unlike European squirrels. In Germany, red squirrels remain the only native species to this day – but other European countries are already struggling with invasive grey squirrels, because they are often more assertive than red squirrels and thus threaten their population.
What do squirrels eat?
Squirrels eat nuts, every child knows that. Unfortunately, this statement is not entirely true – in fact, squirrels are omnivores and eat many other things besides nuts and seeds. Fruits like apples (Malus) and grapes (Vitis vinifera) are also high on the food list of these small rodents. But squirrels also eat bird eggs, insects and snails when a suitable opportunity presents itself. Unfortunately, however, food scarcity is one of the main problems squirrels have to deal with. Especially for hibernation, these animals have to hoard large amounts of food, which they rarely find. Fortunately, gardeners can counteract this problem.
Plants for a squirrel friendly garden
The simplest and at the same time most natural way to provide an optimal food supply for squirrels is to provide suitable food plants in your own garden. Classic squirrel-friendly plants are, of course, nut trees, most notably the walnut tree (Juglans regia) and hazelnut shrub (Corylus avellana). The energy-rich nuts of both trees make a perfect food supply for hibernation and are cracked open by squirrels with incredible skill. In fact, nut trees in the garden often prove to be a real squirrel magnet, because they are often used by different squirrels at the same time.
Not only do walnut and hazelnut provide a richly laid table in autumn, but numerous other plant species are also equally well accepted by squirrels. Fruit trees like apple and pear (Pyrus) are coveted by the small rodents, because they love the tasty fallen fruit. Beech trees (Fagus) and sweet chestnuts (Castanea sativa) are not only beautiful deciduous trees for the garden, but also provide plenty of food thanks to beech nuts and sweet chestnuts. Even conifers are popular with squirrels because the seeds in the cones provide a good food source.
Those who do not have a large garden in which to plant trees for the squirrels, do not have to give up on feeding them. In fact, squirrels are just curious and not very shy, so they are very accepting of being fed by humans. This phenomenon can be observed by people who already feed birds in their garden. Whether sunflower seeds or seed balls – no feeding spot is safe from nimble squirrels. However, you can feed the little rodents better and more specifically if you hang up a homemade squirrel feeder – this not only ensures that only squirrels get the food, but also that birds can eat their meals in peace.
When hanging a squirrel feeder, be sure to place it as high up in the tree as possible and out of reach of predators like cats. The feeder can be filled with nuts and sunflower seeds, but also with corn kernels, pine nuts or raisins. Although fresh fruit is readily accepted by the small rodents, it has no place in the food box – the risk of rot or mould forming is too great. If you attract several squirrels at once with your feeder, it may be worthwhile to set up another feeder at a sufficient distance to avoid squabbles.
Creating watering holes for squirrels
Not only is food elementary for squirrels – it is also essential to meet their water needs. In cities or housing estates, however, suitable watering holes are few and far between, which poses a major problem for the nimble animals. The remedy here is a bird bath. Squirrels like to use them to quench their thirst when they have the chance. Basins that have a wide, non-slip rim that the animals can sit on are ideal. In addition, the bird bath should be slightly elevated, because this increases the protection of visitors from dangerous predators.
Squirrels: creating a habitat in the garden
Naturally, squirrels live in forests, where they claim up to several hectares as a habitat. At night they retire into their nest – a so-called drey – which is located high up in the trunk of an old tree. However, these cute animals do not limit themselves to just one home: Up to eight dreys can be distributed throughout the squirrels’ habitat, which are used with varying frequency for sleeping and living. A peculiarity of these dreys is the fact that each one essentially has two exits – so squirrels always have a possibility of escape.
If you also want to provide a home for a squirrel in your garden, you should first make the garden as attractive as possible for squirrels. A suitable number of trees is especially important for this, of course. Since these small rodents spend much of their lives in the treetops, they prefer gardens with as many climbing opportunities as possible. In addition, an adequate food supply attracts squirrels and promotes the appeal of building a new home.
If the squirrels do not nest in your garden despite a suitable location, you can help them with a simple trick: Many specialist dealers offer artificial dreys that you can install in your own garden. When mounting, make sure that the hutch is high enough on the trunk and cannot be reached by predators (especially cats). These artificial quarters are often well accepted by squirrels and will soon transform into a popular shelter. But squirrel houses or even nesting boxes are also readily occupied by some squirrels, providing them with a warm home that protects them from the elements and enemies.
Eliminating sources of danger for squirrels in the garden
In nature, squirrels are afraid of carnivores such as birds of prey, martens or even domestic cats. However, in the garden there are still other sources of danger, which can mean an early death for these animals. Water butts in particular, pose an often underestimated risk: the small rodents fall all too quickly into half-filled water butts in search of water, and cannot climb back up the smooth walls, which often leads to drowning. You can avoid this by covering your water butt with a lid or close-meshed net as a precaution. If you prefer to leave your water butt open, you can also put a branch or a board in at an angle inside – that way, if the worst comes to the worst, the rodents can climb out of it.
Besides drowning, poisoning is a common cause of death of squirrels in the garden: blaukorn or rat poison is extremely dangerous for the animals, because they ingest the substances as food and die a short time later. Squirrels can mistake granular toxins and garden fertiliser in particular for seeds and eat them. You should therefore, ideally, completely avoid pesticides and mineral fertilisers and instead use organic alternatives – these are not only much more environmentally friendly, but also harmless to lively squirrels.
First aid for squirrels
Every now and then an injured or helpless squirrel may be found in the garden. Young animals that have fallen out of the drey in wind and storms and cannot make it back in on their own are particularly often affected. In doing so, the young squirrels show a unique characteristic: they actively seek help from humans by approaching them and even clinging to their trouser leg. This behaviour, contrary to popular belief, is not an indicator of rabies, but an innate instinct.
If a den is nearby and the kit is uninjured, leave it for the time being and observe to see if it is retrieved by the mother from a proper distance. In the meantime, it makes sense to consult local wildlife rescue services and discuss any follow-up steps. Injured animals, on the other hand, should be captured and rehabilitated with the help of local wildlife rescue services. Always use gloves and a towel when trapping, as squirrels can bite and carry diseases. Until the arrival of professional help, you should provide the squirrel with a lukewarm hot water bottle or heating pad, because young animals or sick squirrels can quickly become hypothermic. On the other hand, you should not feed them milk under any circumstances – it is better to offer the little patients some water.
Garden animals are often dependent on our support, especially in the cold season. Here, you can learn how to help garden animals in winter.