Squirrels are omnivores and opportunistic feeders that spend much of the day foraging for food and eating. Squirrels are attracted to nuts, fruits, seeds, and sometimes fungi during the summer when these food sources are readily available. Another part of a squirrel diet is small insects, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. With this variety of food, and the fact that squirrels spend a lot of their time in trees, people often wonder if squirrels eat baby birds.
Do Squirrels Eat Baby Birds?
Yes, it is true that baby birds are sometimes prey to squirrels. A squirrel may not directly seek out a bird nest to eat them, but they may strike at the opportunity to eat baby birds if they’re hungry and the babies are without a parent.
Since squirrels are opportunistic feeders, they seek out any food that is readily available to them. Because they are often seen eating nuts and seeds, people often assume that squirrels don’t eat meat. However insects, birds, reptiles, mammals and eggs can all be part of a squirrels diet.
Baby birds provide squirrels with protein, vitamins and nutrients they need in their diet. This is more likely to happen during years when other food sources are scarce. For example, some years trees don’t produce many acorns or pinecones due to environmental conditions.
This means squirrels will have to work harder to find food and may turn to other protein sources such as eggs, baby birds, small reptiles and insects.
Types of Squirrels Known to Eat Baby Birds
Pretty much any squirrel species, and even chipmunks, may engage in this behavior. However, some squirrel species are more aggressive and territorial than others.
The American Red Squirrel is a common predator to baby birds and is known to be territorial and highly aggressive. Red Squirrels are not only aggressive towards birds, but they are also known for being aggressive toward their own species.
Although heavily populated throughout North America, Eastern Gray Squirrels are fairly docile compared to Red Squirrels. Eastern Gray Squirrels prefer to eat nuts and fruits, but will eat baby birds if they are hungry enough and other food is scarce.
Do Squirrels Eat Bird Eggs?
Eggs are definitely a nutritious food source for hungry squirrels. If a mother bird leaves a nest with eggs unattended, squirrels can creep in and take the eggs.
Mother birds spend most of the day guarding the nest to incubate the eggs, but they will leave the nest for short periods of time to feed. Typically squirrels will not attack an adult bird sitting on the nest, rather they will wait for the eggs to be unattended.
Bird species where males and females share responsibilities for incubation and caring for nestlings often have the greatest success in defending against predators.
Sometimes both males and females will incubate the eggs, but most mother birds incubate the eggs alone. Some male birds will give females a break to go find food or will remain close to the nest to help in defense.
These cooperative bird species, such as Downy Woodpeckers, are often successful in defending the nesting site against predators, since there is typically always one parent watching the eggs or babies.
How Birds Defend Nests From Predators
If a bird nest is left unattended by the parents, that is when a squirrel is most likely to swoop in to steal eggs or babies.
Parent birds will defend their territory when predators come near the nesting area. Some bird species are highly aggressive and will dive and peck at squirrels that get too close.
Baby birds and eggs are vulnerable to many different predators. Nesting site selection is very important in order for baby birds to have a better chance at survival. Adult birds carefully select where they will build a nest for their young in an attempt to disguise or hide it.
Many birds build their nests in thicker foliage to help hide it. After the nest is finished, leaves and other plant matter are collected to be placed around the nest for better camouflage. Some bird species lay eggs with coloration that helps them blend in with the nest and foliage.
Most birds will try to chase off predators that approach the nesting area. Mockingbirds are known for being highly territorial and aggressive when it comes to their babies. You’ll always know when you are close to their nest because they are known to “dive-bomb” pets and even people near their nest.
Squirrel Feeding Habits and Diet
Squirrels prefer to eat nuts and fruits over baby birds and eggs most of the time. However, when these food sources become scarce, squirrels will eat baby birds and eggs to satisfy their hunger. Squirrels will also feed on seeds and corn left in bird feeders. If your bird seed is disappearing very quickly, it is likely that a squirrel is taking most of the food.
Squirrels that live in urban areas will also rummage through garbage to find food. They have naturally become scavengers and may eat small dead animals if they are desperate for food.
Squirrels are also known to cache food away to save for later. You will typically see this activity in late summer and fall, where squirrels will collect acorns and other nuts and hide them in tree cavities or even bury them.
One year our chestnut tree produced a huge bounty and we say the squirrels burying the chestnuts all over the yard! This helps them ensure they have a backup food source during the winter.
Other Baby Bird Predators
Squirrels are just one of many predators that birds have to worry about when protecting their nestlings. Other bird species, such as Blue Jays and Crows, are opportunistic feeders and will steal other birds’ eggs and babies.
Raccoons, opossums, and snakes are notorious for stealing bird eggs and eating baby birds. These animals not only find nests on the ground, but because they are excellent climbers they can easily reach nests in tree branches.
Baby birds cannot fend for themselves and face many struggles upon leaving the nest. Fledglings are often the most vulnerable as they wander around on the ground before they learn how to fly, making them an easy target. Bird parents usually stick close by and keep watch, but aren’t always successful in scaring a predator away.
Bird eggs and babies unfortunately face many challenges before they become fully fledged adults. While you may not often see the squirrels in your yard interacting with birds, they do sometimes pose a threat. Snatching a baby bird is a bit more difficult than just foraging for plant-based foods, so many squirrels only resort to this when food is scarce or they are missing something critical in their diet.