Anyone that has had bird feeders in their backyard has likely attracted squirrels. Whether they are beneath the feeders picking spilt seeds off the ground, or climbing up and eating out of the feeders directly, they almost always find the food. After seeing them frequently during the day you may wonder, do squirrels eat from bird feeders at night? Let’s take a look at what squirrels are up to at night and if they are raiding your feeders while you are sleeping.
Do Squirrels Eat From Bird Feeders at Night?
No, squirrels are diurnal and will not typically eat from bird feeders at night. If you are seeing squirrels visiting your feeders during the day, it is very unlikely that they are also coming back to feed after dark. But why is that?
Are squirrels active at night?
The reason why squirrels don’t eat from bird feeders at night is because they are asleep just like you! Well…unless you’re a night owl.
When we think of squirrels that eat from feeders we are typically thinking about tree squirrels. Gray squirrels, red squirrels and fox squirrels being the most common.
Tree squirrels live in trees and are experts and climbing, jumping, hanging and grasping. If you’ve ever seen them running and jumping full speed from tree limb to tree limb you know how nimble and acrobatic they are.
This means climbing poles and getting into feeders is usually pretty easy for them. In fact you may have to employ several tactics to successfully keep them out if you don’t want them eating your seed or suet.
Tree squirrels, as well as ground squirrels, are diurnal. This is a fancy way of saying they are active during the daylight hours and sleep at night.
For example, the common gray squirrel leaves it nest about 30 minutes before sunrise, and returns to the nest for the night about 30 minutes after sunset. In general most tree and ground squirrels follow a similar pattern, and spend the night in their nests.
Are there nocturnal squirrels?
Yes, there is a type of squirrel that is active at night, flying squirrels! They tend to be more common than people realize, because most of us aren’t in the woods in the middle of the night to see them.
These squirrels have large eyes with excellent night vision. They have a flap of skin on each side of their body that runs from arm to leg. By leaping from a height and fully extending their arms and legs, these flaps allow their body to become like a parachute. They can glide almost 300 feet!
So it is very likely that your feeder is close enough to a tree that they would be able to glide or leap to it. Flying squirrels have been known to eat sunflower seeds, seed and nut mixes and suet. Therefore it is definitely possible that flying squirrels are munching at your bird feeders at night, especially if you live in a more wooded area.
Do any animals eat from bird feeders at night?
Aside from flying squirrels, are they any other animals that may eat through your birdseed overnight? Yes! There are several mammals common in urban and suburban areas that are out looking for food at night.
Mice & Rats
Members of the rodent family, mice and rats are both actively searching for food at night. They are good at climbing and have been known to eat out of bird feeders. They will most likely find your feeders if seeds are falling to the ground below.
Mice and rats can be an issue at feeders not only by eating your seed, but their feces can carry diseases. If you do spot them at your feeder, you should probably take steps to deter them, just for health reasons. We have some tips here for keeping them away.
Raccoons, while they may sometimes be seen during the day, are nocturnal animals. The likelihood of them approaching your bird feeders increases at night.
They can be incredibly clever and agile when trying to get food. Raccoons can open the trickiest containers and reach into small spaces with their dexterous hands. If possible, a raccoon will not only eat your birdseed but will try and knock the whole feeder down and drag it away.
I personally have seen a raccoon open a suet feeder and take the whole cake out, and pull a feeder off the pole and drag it away!
Opossums, another nocturnal critter, present much of the same trouble at your bird feeders as raccoons. They are great climbers, can chew and scratch your feeders, and eat a lot of seed. Plus they have that long, strong tail they can use to hang or for balance, giving them an advantage when trying to reach your feeders.
Skunks are another common nocturnal “neighborhood” mammal attracted to birdseed. Skunks have long claws they use for digging, but they’re bad for climbing. So they are unlikely to climb up your feeder poles or jump from trees to get to your feeders like a squirrel or a raccoon.
Typically skunks like to forage on the ground and find birdseed there. But if you have a ground feeder then skunks may definitely be the seed-eating culprit.
The types of squirrels you are used to seeing at your bird feeders during the day typically are not eating from your feeders at night. Tree squirrels and ground squirrels are diurnal like us, and spend their nights sleeping in their nests / dens. However there are several nocturnal mammals that frequent yards such as mice, rats, raccoons, opossums and skunks. All of these mammals will eat most types of bird seed and suet. So if you are finding your feeders are getting emptied overnight or even damaged during the nighttime hours, it is more likely to be one of these nocturnal mammals, and not a tree squirrel.
Melanie is an environmental scientist, birdwatcher, and amateur photographer. She’s been a birding hobbyist for years and loves feeding and learning about birds of all types. Over the years, Melanie has identified more than 250 bird species, with sightings of the Atlantic Puffin, Hawaiian Goose, and Arctic Tern among her most cherished.