When a Squirrel Needs a Snack

What do squirrels eat? Plenty.

Squirrels like nuts, of course. In our corner of the woods, that means mostly acorns. They love seeds, flowers, bark, and mushrooms—the kinds that cling to trees whose insides are rotting with fungus. On the darker side, they’re known to raid birds’ nests—usually for the eggs, and sometimes they’ll take a nestling. All these squirrel snacks make perfect sense, even the bark. That toothsome treat provides starches, sugar, vitamins, and minerals.

This week, I noticed two additional foods in the squirrels’ diet. One makes me want to cheer, and the other has me scratching my head.

First, the good news: The squirrels are eating branch buds, a sure sign of spring.

Enjoying a tender early-spring tree bud.

And the puzzle? I’ve been watching one squirrel stuff her tree cavity with leaves. She’s probably expecting a spring litter. But I wonder about her prenatal dietary choices.

Watch what she chose to nosh on:

Why do you suppose a squirrel would tuck into a dried-out leaf? She’s surrounded by tastier fare—tender buds and a forest still littered with last fall’s acorns. As a soil enrichment, leaves add potassium, calcium, and magnesium, plus organic matter as they decompose. I suppose squirrels need these nutrients—but apparently in small doses, judging by the tiny bite my neighbor took from her leaf hoard.

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