How Do Squirrels Find Their Nuts?

Squirrels are famous as hoarders of acorns and other nuts. As the squirrel food pyramid indicates, nuts and other plant-based foods make up the bulk of their diets. Since squirrels are active year round, they need to store up food ahead of time to sustain themselves through the winter. Nuts make a great storage food because they can keep for months on end. Most of a squirrel’s winter nut caches are collected and buried in the ground during the months of September and October.1

Nuts About Nuts

Each year, a single squirrel may bury thousands of nuts.2 That’s a lot of food that will later need to be retrieved! Moreover, squirrels can spread their nut caches across an area larger than two square miles, and it may be up to 9 months before they need to return and dig up these stashes.2 So how do squirrels manage to find all these nuts?

Memory, Smell… or Both?

In fact, squirrels don’t recover all the nuts that they bury. They only need to find enough to survive the winter. Squirrels use a combination of memory and smell to relocate buried nuts.2 They’re able to remember the general whereabouts of their caches, and when they’re close enough to where a nut is buried, they can then sniff out its exact location. Interestingly, squirrels will sometimes dig up some of their nuts only to rebury them somewhere else.2


Squirrels and other animals that store food in many different locations are called scatter hoarders.

The fact that squirrels are able to smell nearby nuts explains why they’re often able to find food buried by other squirrels.2 They can also sniff out some nuts more easily than others. For example, squirrels are able to smell buried walnuts from further away than buried acorns.3

Squirrel burying a nut
Squirrel burying a nut

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1 Webster, D., Parnell, J., & Biggs, W. (1985). Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.

2 Jacobs, L. & Liman, E. (1991). Grey squirrels remember the locations of buried nuts. The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, 41: 103-110. Retrieved from

3 Luft, J., Malinowski, J., Briggs, J., & Smith, C. (1994). Odor as a factor in nut discovery by fox squirrels. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, 97(1-2): 1-3.

What Do Squirrels Eat?

Squirrels spend huge amounts of time each day foraging for food. So what are they looking for? Squirrels eat nuts (especially acorns), seeds, flowers, fruit, buds, fungi, and sometimes even insects and baby birds.1,2 If you’ve ever seen a squirrel going through the trash, then you know they love to eat human food as well!

Of course, squirrels don’t eat the same foods all the time. Their diet depends on what’s available during each season. For example, squirrels eat buds in the spring when plants are developing new leaves and flowers and then fruit in the summer when it appears.2

A Quick Guide to Squirrel Nutrition

If you have a pet squirrel, you may be wondering how much of each type of food to feed your furry friend. Fortunately, a healthy and balanced squirrel diet is extremely easy to achieve. Nuts and seeds make up as much as 95% of the eastern gray squirrel diet.3 In particular, squirrels prefer acorns, hickory nuts, and beech-nuts.1,4 Insects and other food derived from animals make up under 2% of a squirrel’s diet.2

What do squirrels eat image

To prevent your pet squirrel from eating too much or too little, we should also figure out the total amount of food he or she needs every day. Let’s start with the fact that the average squirrel eats about 100 pounds of food each year.2 Some simple math will give us our answer:

What do squirrels eat equation

So, your squirrel will need just over a quarter pound of food every day.

What About Baby Squirrels?

Like other young mammals, baby squirrels drink milk from their mothers. Squirrels nurse their young for about 3 months, which is a long time by rodent standards.5 Every mammal produces its own unique type of milk, and squirrels are no exception. Compared to cow milk, gray squirrel milk has less water and sugar but more protein and fat.6

If you’re raising a baby squirrel, you can make your own squirrel milk using this recipe.

Other Popular Questions:


1 Reid, F. (2006). A field guide to mammals of North America (4th ed.). New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.

2 Webster, D., Parnell, J., & Biggs, W. (1985). Mammals of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.

3 Chung-MacCoubrey, A., Hagerman, A., & Kirkpatrick, R. (1997). Effects of tannins on digestion and detoxification activity in gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis). Physiological Zoology, 70(3), 270-277.

4 Nixon, C., Worley, D., & McClain, M. (1968). Food habits of squirrels in Southeast Ohio. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 32(2), 294-305.

5 Haupt, L. (2013). The urban bestiary: encountering the everyday wild. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

6 Nixon, C., & Harper, W. (1972). Composition of gray squirrel milk. The Ohio Journal of Science72(1), 3-6. Retrieved from