Saturday, January 21st is National Squirrel Appreciation Day. There are days when the Wellfield Horticulture staff has trouble appreciating squirrels. Most recently, the squirrels have dug up and eaten tulip bulbs, and they chewed the wiring on some of the holiday lights. These frustrations aside, we all agree that squirrels can be entertaining and fun to watch. If you are wanting to attract squirrels, you can provide any or all of their basic needs: food, water, cover and shelter.
Most people picture squirrels eating acorns or raiding bird feeders. A squirrel’s diet is actually quite varied, and includes tree nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, flowers and other plant material, insects, fungi, eggs and hatchlings. The squirrels at Wellfield have been seen helping themselves to raspberries as well as snacking on pumpkins and squash set out as fall decorations. The quickest way to attract squirrels is to put up a squirrel feeder. There are many different squirrel feeders available. A cute one I have seen is a corn cob holder that looks like a little picnic table. Other feeders allow the squirrel to either reach in or sit inside to partake in what is being offered. The most important aspect of any squirrel feeder is keeping the food dry, as mold can be harmful to your furry (and feathered) guests.
Squirrels, like other wildlife, need clean water to drink. A pond, birdbath, pet water dish or even a bucket are ways to provide water for squirrels. If the bucket or dish has any depth, make sure to provide a way to climb out if they should happen to fall in. Keeping the water open or thawed in freezing temperatures is important to squirrels being able to access water in the winter months.
Squirrels are food for many natural predators: birds of prey like hawks and owls, foxes, coyotes, members of the weasel family, as well as cats and dogs can kill squirrels. You can help squirrels feel and stay safe in your yard by providing cover. A wide variety of deciduous and evergreen trees and bushes can provide cover for squirrels. Leave dead wood lie so squirrels and other creatures can hide in hollowed out cavities. After holiday festivities are over, put your cut Christmas tree out near your food or water source. Keeping dogs and cats inside can also reduce the number of predators posing a threat.
There are two types of nests used by tree squirrels. One type is constructed of twigs, leaves and moss at least 20 feet up in a tree. These leaf nests are called “dreys”. The second type utilizes a tree cavity, and it offer the most protection from the elements. Squirrels will also take advantage of bird nesting boxes if they are big enough. They will often widen the entrance with their teeth. One telltale sign that a squirrel has taken over a nest box is their use of leaves for nesting material. Nest boxes can be provided for squirrels and should be placed 18’-30’ up in a tree at least 10” in diameter, facing east or south.
Attracting and sustaining squirrels, as well as many other animals, birds and beneficial insects, can be accomplished through the landscaping you choose for your home or business. Planting trees, bushes and other native plants that produce nuts, fruit and seeds provides food as well as cover. Leaving dead or dying trees can provide shelter and harbor insects that also provide food. Incorporating a water feature can offer homeowners a tranquil spot and also be a source of fresh water for many different creatures, including squirrels.
Squirrels often get a bad reputation as pests, but they are actually helpful in dispersing seeds, aerating the soil, and they also do their part to control insect populations. If you are a fan of squirrels, roll out the red carpet and make your yard an oasis in a difficult world, and celebrate National Squirrel Appreciation Day every year!
Horticulture and Facilities Manager
Photo credit: Wellfield guest Beth Hall