When to feed red squirrels
Feeding red squirrels in times of food shortage, such as the late spring and early summer, helps their survival and provides hours of entertainment for you.
Food may be put out at any time of the year but squirrels usually disappear from gardens when their natural food is plentiful. This is generally about the beginning of August. They will come back when they have fed well and stored nuts for the winter. Red squirrels need to gain 10% of their bodyweight to see them through the winter months.
What – and what not – to feed
Most people feed unsalted peanuts in a wire feeder meant for the birds and this is what will initially attract squirrels to your garden. However, too many peanuts can cause thinning of the bone so please feed a variety of food. Hazelnuts, filberts, pine nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, coconut and fruit will provide a varied and healthier diet.
NEVER feed brazil nuts or fatballs!
NEVER feed stale or poor quality food as red squirrels do suffer from digestive problems just the same as us!
If it's not good enough for you, it's not good enough for the squirrels!
Keep it clean!
ALWAYS keep the feeder clean and put fresh food in daily. Scrub the feeding box weekly with a mild disinfectant, eg. caged bird disinfectant. If a sick squirrel comes to the feeder and others follow, then sometimes the infection can be passed to healthy animals.
Squirrel-only feeders can be bought from Wight Squirrel Project and, if positioned correctly, will prevent the larger birds lifting the lid and taking the squirrel's food. You can also buy a feeder from the Garlic shop in Newchurch. The trick is to make sure there is only a short ledge and no branch in front of the feeder. The agile squirrels will manage to access the food but the birds will not.
Alternatively a broad mesh wire cage around the feeder will stop the birds gaining access.
Squirrels will bury food in your lawn and flowerbeds. If you put out whole nuts, especially in their shells, more will be buried than eaten. Try putting out chopped nuts as they will be more readily eaten.
Hazards and how to avoid disaster
Cats and dogs are the biggest hazards met by squirrels in your garden. It may seem obvious but DON'T encourage squirrels into your garden unless you are sure your pets will not bother them!
Keep squirrels off the ground!
Always place feeders and a water supply near an escape route - never in the middle of the lawn. If squirrels must cross open ground to reach your garden, a rope or branch attached to the nearest tree will provide a safe aerial routeway. Corridors are important as red squirrels are essentially a tree-living animal and are more vulnerable to attack when on the ground.
Where possible, plant trees to form corridor links and leave your hedges to grow taller. Water troughs, ponds and water butts also kill squirrels each year. Squirrels are good swimmers but if they cannot get out of the water they will die of exhaustion. They can squeeze through small holes and also fall down drainpipes into butts - it has all happened. Attach a rope to the side of the water butt or trough so they can climb out if they should fall into the water.
Garden netting is another hazard as squirrels - and other wildlife - can get caught in it. Rats are always a problem and a bite from a rat can kill a squirrel. However, putting down traps and poison can – and does – cause squirrel fatalities and it is illegal where there are red squirrels. Be very careful to place food where it is difficult for rats to get at it. Squirrels are much more agile, so use this to advantage.
NEVER encourage squirrels across a road to get to your garden – the inevitable will happen.
All this may seem obvious but every year there are squirrel casualties due to these hazards.
If you have squirrels in your garden, or own a wood, planting trees will provide a valuable source of food and shelter.
Suitable trees for gardens: Hazel
Wayfaring Tree, Sweet Chestnut, Dogwood, Cherry, Crab Apple, Elderberry
If you own a wood, then Oak, Ash, Hornbeam, Wych Elm, Beech, Scots pine, Corsican Pine, Douglas Fir and Norway Spruce all provide food for red squirrels.
If you have red squirrels in your garden on the Isle of Wight, please fill in the online sightings form or mobile app and let us know about it for our monitoring programme. It is important to monitor the population and your information is a valuable contribution.