There’s little doubt that squirrels are the most adorable, entertaining creatures on the planet. They especially enjoy hanging out in our yards and eating our birdseed – unless, of course, we scare them away. If you’ve been wondering what eats squirrels, read on to find out.
Squirrels are prey for many creatures. They are hunted by mammals such as cats, dogs, badgers, pine martens, minks, bobcats, birds such as hawks, owls, black kites, falcons, and reptiles including rattlesnakes, bull snakes, alligator snapping turtles. Also, squirrels can be preyed upon by other squirrels.
Despite their speed and agility, the list of squirrels’ predators stretches quite long. Whether squirrels are ground-dwelling, flying, or live on trees, they are preyed upon by many mammals, birds, and reptiles. From wild carnivores like minks and polecats to domestic animals like cats and dogs, all feed on squirrels.
With information curated from scholarly literature including published studies and online sources, this article will talk about the major predators of squirrels among mammals, birds, and reptiles.
Mammals that eat Squirrels
Cats (Felis catus)
Being the smallest members of the feline family, cats are small, carnivore animals that have been domesticated by humans and are often kept as pets.
Like the other felids, cats possess a flexible body, sharp teeth, retractable claws, and quick reflexes. They also have a well-developed vision and sense of smell to help them hunt in the dark.
Small birds and rodents, including squirrels, are the primary targets of the cats and are often hunted by them.
Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)
Believed to be domesticated by our ancestors over 15,000 years ago, dogs are canids descended from an ancient wolf species that is now extinct.
The large and diverse family of dogs is further divided into various breeds according to their size, shape, color, and geographical location. They are known to fulfill several purposes for us, such as companionship, therapy, herding, protection, pulling load, and so on.
Being omnivores, dogs can eat many things that we do, and are also opportunistic hunters that prey on small mammals like cats, squirrels, and small-to-medium-sized birds.
Pine Martens (Martes martes)
The Pine Martens are also called “European pine marten” and “European marten” because of their nativity to Northern Europe. These small mammals are members of the mustelid family and prefer to inhabit well-wooded areas.
The fur coat of pine martens is coarse and short during the summers but grows longer and silkier in texture as winter arrives. The color of their fur coat ranges from light to dark brown.
There is a distinct, cream-colored patch on their throat that contrasts to their otherwise dark body. Displaying sexual dimorphism, the male pine martens are larger in size than their female counterparts.
Pine martens are opportunistic feeders that can eat small mammals, birds, and their eggs, insects, and fruits, seeds, and berries. Among mammals, voles, squirrels, and rabbits are their most common prey.
Badgers are a group of short-legged mammals that belong to 2 different families: Mustelidae and Mephitidae. There are 13 recognized species of badgers in the world, divided into 4 subfamilies.
Almost all these species have a short but wide body with a slightly elongated head and rounded ears. The length of their tail can vary from species to species.
While their bodies are grey, with light-colored stripes running across them, their faces are black with remarkable white markings.
The diet of the badgers also varies with different species. Some are insectivores, while the others are carnivores.
Following are the badger species that feed on squirrels:
- European Badgers (Meles meles)
- American Badgers (Taxidea taxus)
- Javan Ferret-badger (Melogale orientalis)
- Hog Badger (Arctonyx collaris)
American Polecats (Mustela nigripes)
Also referred to as “Black-footed ferret,” the American Polecats are an endangered mustelid species endemic to the central regions of North America.
Similar in appearance to the European Polecats (Mustela putorius), these mustelids are roughly as big as a mink and have a long, slender body. Their feet, ears, tail, along with parts of their face, are outlined with black.
The surface of their feet, even the soles, are covered with hair, concealing the arched claws present on their toes. They display sexual dimorphism in their size, with the males being 10% larger than the females.
American polecats are also referred to as “Prairie dog hunters” for a good reason; about 90% of their diet consists solely of Prairie dogs. The rest consists of rodents and lagomorphs like voles, mice, cottontails, sandpipers, larks and meadowlarks, ground squirrels, and jackrabbits.
American Minks (Neovison vison)
Closely related to the recently extinct Sea Minks (Neovison macrodon), the American Minks are a mink species that was originally endemic to North America but have expanded to parts of South America and Europe.
These semi-aquatic mammals have a larger and stouter body than most of the other mustelids. Their tail is large, bushy, and somewhat tapering like the martens. The body weight of these minks varies with changing seasons, and the males are always heavier than the females.
American minks are carnivores and feed on a variety of animals. Among the mammals, they commonly prey on muskrats, squirrels, marsh rabbits, mice, and voles.
Birds like seagulls, cormorants, grosbeaks, and dippers are also a part of their diet. Their secondary diet includes frogs and tadpoles, fish, crustaceans, and water insects.
Birds that eat Squirrels
Ferruginous Hawks (Buteo regalis)
Often mistaken for being eagles due to their large size, the Ferruginous Hawks are the largest hawk species endemic to North America.
Because they are closely related to the Rough-legged Hawks (Buteo lagopus), these hawks are also referred to as “Ferruginous rough-leg.”
They’re extensively used in the sport of falconry. Ferruginous Hawks are sexually dimorphic in their size, with the females being slightly larger than the males.
Ferruginous Hawks are like eagles in size and their hunting behavior; like the eagles, they, too, primarily feed on small mammals.
Mammals like hares, weasels, muskrats, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, voles, and gophers make up about 85% of their diet. Their diet also consists of smaller birds, garter snakes, bull snakes, crickets, beetles, and grasshoppers.
This hawk is one of the most prolific predators of squirrels. It will commonly wait near the top of trees for squirrels to appear and then swoop down and catch them.
Owls are a large family of mostly nocturnal birds of prey consisting of over 200 recognized species so far.
Some characteristic features of these raptors are binocular vision, binaural hearing, a broad head with a facial disc, and feathers adapted for silent flight.
Owls are skilled hunters that prey on many animals, including mammals, rodents, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.
Following are some of the squirrel-eating North American owl species:
- Barn Owls (Tyto alba)
- Tawny Owls (Strix aluco)
- Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus)
- Northern White-faced Owls (Ptilopsis leucotis)
- Long-eared Owls (Asio otus)
- Barred Owls (Strix varia)
Black Kites (Milvus migrans)
The Black Kites are a medium-sized, diurnal species of raptors considered to be one of the most abundant birds of the Accipitridae family.
Although they are closely related to the Red Kites (Milvus milvus), there are significant differences between them. Black kites are smaller in size, have a darker plumage (with no trace of rufous), and have a less forked tail than the latter.
Although both sexes have the same plumage, they are sexually dimorphic in size, with the males are smaller in size but have a larger wingspan than the females. The females are not only larger but also more aggressive.
Black Kites are different from other group members because they are more inclined towards scavenging than hunting live prey. Among the living animals, they usually prey on birds, fish, bats, and rodents.
Long-legged Buzzards (Buteo rufinus)
Being one of the larger members of the Buteo genus, the Long-legged Buzzards are a bird of prey widely distributed in North Africa and parts of Eurasia.
They have a moderately-sized head with a relatively large bill; their wings, tail, and legs are all quite large compared to the rest of their body.
Despite their sturdy built, these buzzards are generally regarded as sluggish hunters and prefer to feed on rodents like gerbils, voles, rats, and ground squirrels. Other than these, they also prey on reptiles, smaller birds, insects, and carrion.
Northern Goshawks (Accipiter gentilis)
The Northern Goshawks are a species of true hawks belonging to the Accipitridae family.
Mostly inhabiting the temperate forests, these hawks have short but broad wings and a typically long tail. Their bill is sizeable, with short legs and thick toes.
The color of their upper parts ranges from bluish-grey to brownish-grey, with dark streaking scattered all over. Their undersides are lighter in color and comparatively less streaked.
Being sexually dimorphic, the female northern goshawks are significantly larger in size than the males.
Northern goshawks are powerful hunters who hunt in densely wooded regions, using the obstructing cover as an ambush for their prey. Like the other raptors, they are also opportunistic predators that can feed on small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects.
Among mammals, rabbits, hares, and squirrels are their major prey, while in the avian family, they commonly prey on pigeons, woodpeckers, pheasants, thrushes, and corvids.
Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus)
Also called “Duck Hawk” and simply “Peregrine,” the Peregrine Falcons are a species of crow-sized falcons that are the fastest bird globally and can fly over 200 mph.
Like many other raptors, these falcons are also sexually dimorphic, with the females being larger in size than their male counterparts.
These birds have a black head, a bluish-grey back, white underparts covered with dark barring, slate-grey wings with black wingtips. Their tail is long, narrow, rounded at the edge, with a black tip and white band at its end.
The diet of the peregrine falcons mainly consists of medium-sized birds like doves, pigeons, waders, and waterfowl. However, they also hunt on shrews, voles, rats, squirrels, and hares occasionally.
Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias)
Belonging to the heron family of Ardeidae, the Great Blue Herons are the largest heron species that is endemic to North America (third largest in the world).
These herons have a pale head, a dull yellow bill, a rusty-grey neck, slaty feathers, red-brown thighs, and grey lower legs that turn orangish in the breeding season.
Although both sexes appear completely alike, the males are slightly larger than the females in size.
The great blue herons mainly feed on fish, but they also prey on rodents, ducks and ducklings, shrimp, crabs, and aquatic insects.
Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus)
Ospreys are a diurnal bird of prey species that are also known by names like “River Hawks,” “Fish Hawks,” and “Sea Hawks.”
They are large birds with glossy brown upperparts, pure white underparts, and a white chest covered with brown streaks. They have black bill and white feet, with their talons being black as well.
Both sexes have similar plumage, but the females have a comparatively slimmer body and broader wings.
Although ospreys are primarily piscivores, with about 99% of their diet consisting of fish, they are also known to hunt on squirrels, rabbits, and hares occasionally.
Reptiles that eat Squirrels
Named after the rattle located near their tail, which makes a loud, rattling noise when vibrated as a warning, the Rattlesnakes are a group of venomous snakes.
There are 36 recognized species of these predatory snakes, all of which are endemic to the Americas.
Being an ambush predators, the rattlesnakes commonly prey on mice, rats, ground squirrels, voles, rabbits, and hares.
Bull Snakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi)
Reaching the length of about 8 feet, the Bull Snakes are among the longest snakes of North America (and the United States). These are non-venomous snakes considered to be a subspecies of the Gopher Snakes (Pituophis catenifer).
The skin color of these snakes varies between white, black, brown, and yellow, with some reddish blotching over it. They have three spots on each side and several black bands on their tail.
Bull snakes are among the most powerful constrictors that feed on lizards, ground-nesting birds, and several small mammals like squirrels, pocket gophers, rats, voles, mice, and squirrels.
Alligator Snapping Turtles (Macrochelys temminckii)
Being one of the heaviest freshwater turtle species globally, the Alligator Snapping Turtles are a species of freshwater turtle endemic to the United States.
They are a carnivorous species that are known for their powerful jaws and primitive appearance. Their species displays sexual dimorphism, wherein the males are significantly larger in size than the females.
The primary diet of the alligator snapping turtles consists of fish, amphibians, mollusks, clams, snails, worms, crawfish, and waterbirds. However, in food scarcity, they can also prey on muskrats, nutrias, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, and armadillos when they come close to the water’s edge.
Conclusion: Animals That Eat Squirrels
So there you have it, the gigantic list of 17 common squirrel predators. I hope that you’ve found the list useful!
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