12 Natural Predators That Eat Squirrels: In-Depth Look

Most common natural squirrel predators

No other rodent seems quite as prevalent as the squirrel, with seemingly endless populations of them living anywhere with trees. These fluffy creatures are an essential part of many ecosystems and can be seen serving as predators, prey, and even gardeners!

Squirrels will end up as prey for any animal that eats small mammals, including owls, hawks, falcons, eagles, snakes, minks, bobcats, badgers, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, cats, and more. With large populations and fast reproduction, squirrels are an essential building block for many different ecosystems.

Keep on reading for a more in-depth look at each of these common predators that target squirrels. We’ll also talk about what adaptations squirrels have to help them thrive in the wild. Let’s get into it!

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How Do Squirrels Survive In The Wild?

In the United States alone, there are more than 60 different species of squirrels, but they can be separated into three distinct categories: tree squirrels, ground squirrels, and flying squirrels.

Tree squirrels are the most likely image that will come to mind when you hear the word “squirrel.” These animals live in nests; as their name suggests, they spend most of their time in trees.

Ground squirrels can climb fairly well but prefer to live in underground colonies. Compared to the other categories of squirrels, they are unique because they prefer to live in open plains and deserts rather than near forests.

Finally, flying squirrels are a lot like tree squirrels with one unique adaptation: an extra bit of stretchy skin between their arms and legs that lets them glide over 150 feet. Interestingly, all types of squirrels can survive a fall from any height, but flying squirrels can glide and control their descent as well.

Each of these different types of squirrels lives in different environments but, for the most part, will have similar survival mechanisms and behaviors, as well as similar predators depending on the location.

Squirrels Are Very Nimble Animals

The squirrel’s most useful method for escaping predation is their speed and agility, allowing them to outrun and outmaneuver most other animals. They have many specific adaptations that help them with this feat.

The first adaptation that helps squirrels run away from most predators is their speed, capable of running 20 miles per hour. On top of that, they are excellent climbers and can run up a tree and leap to the next one in only a few seconds, putting distance between them and whatever is chasing them.

Not only are squirrels fast, but they are also incredibly lightweight, especially compared to their overall size. This lets them get places heavier predators can’t reach and is also part of their ability to run fast.

The hind legs of squirrels are incredibly muscular, allowing them to leap long distances comfortably, flying from tree to tree in a way that seems to defy gravity. Squirrels can jump well over 20 times their body length, proportionally four times further than that of an Olympic long jumper.

They’ll Defend Their Territory!

While squirrels are not the largest animal out there, they can be very feisty and willing to defend their territory from predators and others of the same species.

Thanks to sharp claws, teeth, and great agility, squirrels can put up a good fight for any animals that intrude on their territory. Red squirrels, a type of tree squirrel, are one of the most territorial species.

In fact, if you’ve ever come across two squirrels who seem to be playing, it’s more likely they were settling a territory dispute. Squirrel territories can be as small as a few trees or up to as large as a 20-acre range.

Squirrels are good at picking their battles and will not attempt to defend themselves from large predators, instead opting to run away.

There are even certain places that squirrels prefer to nest in the winter, and which they will claim as their territory.

Squirrels Are Always Aware Of Their Surroundings

A major part of a squirrel’s survival relies on them constantly being aware of its surroundings. They have a good chance of escaping most predators if they don’t get caught off guard.

If you watch a squirrel for any amount of time, you’ll notice they are constantly looking around and listening for any threats. Thanks to them keeping their head on a swivel, they’re quick to react to sudden movement by darting to safety.

A squirrel’s peripheral vision is as good as its focal vision, which further helps them stay aware of its surroundings. Even without turning its head, a squirrel can accurately see in front, above, below, and to both sides equally as clearly.

We’ve created a list of 4 sounds that specifically scare squirrels and might keep them away if you’re looking for a gentle way to secure your own surroundings.

A Litter Of Squirrels Will Have Constant Care From Their Mother

Squirrels will breed once or twice a year, and each litter will be between two to four babies, called kits or kittens. Like most rodents, squirrels are born without fur or vision and rely on food and protection from their mother for the start of their life.

Squirrels grow fast, according to SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry they have a gestation period of 40-44 days, and take 65-70 days to be grown and weaned off their mom. While a squirrel can survive on its own after those ten weeks, it will be another seven months until it is fully grown.

The constant care that a squirrel mother provides while nursing her young goes a long way in raising healthy babies with the best chance of survival.

12 Natural Predators That Eat Squirrels

Depending on where you live, you might see more squirrels that have been run over by cars than ones that fall prey to predators. However, plenty of animals will eat squirrels when given a chance, and they are an important part of their local ecosystems.

Over a dozen predators will prey on squirrels as a major part of their diet or as an opportunistic food source.

Owls Are A Nocturnal Threat To Squirrels

Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo bubo) sitting on a branch in Gelderland in the Netherlands

Squirrels might be most active during the day, and owls are mostly nocturnal, but they are still a major threat to squirrels. Despite what you might think, owls are not completely nocturnal.

Most species of owls will hunt primarily from dusk to dawn, with only two species being active during the day. The northern hawk owl and the northern pygmy owl are the two species that are active exclusively during the day.

The northern hawk owl is native throughout Alaska and most of Canada, as well as parts of Russia and China. The Northern Pygmy is native throughout the western parts of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

These two diurnal species of owl are an especially relevant threat to squirrels. However, other species of owls will hunt in the early morning and during the evenings when squirrels are still active.

Despite most species of squirrels and owls having a small overlap of activity during the day, this is still plenty of time for owls to swoop down and make a meal out of an unlucky squirrel.

Hawks Can Be A Vicious Predator For Squirrels

Sparrow hawk (Accipiter nisus) female

Hawks are the second bird or prey on this list, but unlike owls are active during the day and are more likely to come across squirrels. 

Squirrels are not the first choice for hawks as prey as they typically prefer a larger meal, but young and hungry hawks will have no problem eating a squirrel if they need to. All species of hawks are natural predators of squirrels, depending on what species are native to the area.

Hawks are effective predators of squirrels thanks to their speed, large size, and keen eyesight. Hawks can circle above until they find an exposed squirrel, where they can quickly swoop down and ambush the squirrel.

Despite the excellent eyesight that squirrels have, hawks have keen eyes allowing them to see eight times as far as people can. Squirrels, on the other hand, have a vision about the same as a human’s.

Falcons Are A Fast-Flying Squirrel Eater

Peregrine Falcon (Falco Peregrinus) in flight against blue sky

Compared to hawks, falcons are an even better predator for catching and eating squirrels. Falcons are smaller, meaning that smaller amounts of meat go further and are faster than hawks.

This extra speed helps falcons divebomb squirrels and catch them even if the squirrel notices and tries to run away. Squirrels and other small mammals will make up a large portion of a falcon’s diet.

As a defense mechanism against falcons and other birds, according to a study done by the University of Rochester, squirrels were able to respond to threats and return to safety in less than 6 seconds when foraging, even at distances of over 40 feet.

Eagles Are A Common Symbol Of Freedom- But Not For Squirrels

Close up of a Bald Eagle

The last bird on this list is the majestic eagle. Compared to both hawks and falcons, eagles are much larger and stronger birds and, like hawks, typically prefer to catch larger meals.

Large rodents, fish, and snakes make up a large portion of an eagle’s diet, but small rodents, including squirrels, will be included in the diet of eagles as well.

Squirrels will be an important part of an eagle’s diet when they are young and only partially grown, unable to take down the large prey that adult eagles prefer. Just like hawks, eagles fly high in the sky and search for the right prey and the perfect moment to strike.

Snakes Are Waiting To Ambush Squirrels

Slow worm (Anguis fragilis) on moss in a forest of Dolomites, Italy

Young tree squirrels and ground squirrels are the perfect prey for snakes, especially rattlesnakes and bullsnakes. As rodents, squirrels are just as much a targeted prey species by snakes as mice and rats.

Adult tree squirrels and flying squirrels are not commonly eaten by snakes, thanks to their ability to run away and sharp teeth and claws to fight their way out when needed.

Snakes, without any appendages, are at a severe disadvantage in mobility compared to squirrels. This means that snakes have to rely on other methods to catch squirrels, with ambushing them being the way to go.

Thanks to well-adapted camouflage and the ability for snakes to remain still for long periods of time, it is easy for snakes to lie in wait until prey stumbles onto their path. Snakes might not hunt specifically for squirrels, but when the opportunity presents itself, most snakes will strike out at the squirrel.

Minks And Other Predatory Mammals Are Threats To Squirrels

At Home - Wild American Mink (Neovison vison) in a riparian habitat.

Minks, martens, weasels, and ferrets are all similarly sized carnivorous mammals a part of the weasel family (Mustelidae). All of these animals prey on small rodents, including squirrels, fish, crustaceans, and anything else they can get their hands on.

Mammals in this family are opportunistic predators, with diets varying based on what is available in the environment. Members of the Weasel family are native to a wide variety of habitats, from plains to forests, eating the species of squirrels also native to those environments.

Bobcats Will Eat A Squirrel If Given The Chance

The Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), portait. Siberian lynx portait.

The red lynx, commonly known as a bobcat, is a medium-sized wild cat native throughout most of North America. These animals are about twice the size of domestic cats and weigh up to 40 pounds, making them the perfect size to eat squirrels.

Bobcats are excellent stalking predators, able to sneak up until they are in striking range. They can also jump over 12 feet in the air to help them catch birds before they fly away, and they can also help them catch squirrels trying to escape.

Bobcats eat a wide variety of prey ranging from small rodents all the way up to baby deer and livestock. Thanks to their well-developed claws and powerful muscles, a bobcat can take down prey several times larger than itself while still being efficient hunters of smaller prey.

Badgers Are Aggressive Animals That Love Squirrels

Badgers are one of the most territorial and aggressive animals, despite their relatively small size, rarely weighing more than 30 pounds.

Most of the diet of a badger includes insects, plants, lizards, and small rodents, including squirrels, when they get the chance. Badgers are very opportunistic animals and will happily eat any animal carcasses they come across as well.

Ground squirrels and other burrowing animals are a large part of a badger’s diet, allowing them to take advantage of their powerful claws to dig their prey out of the ground.

Badgers will also act as ambush predators by hiding inside the burrows of other animals and waiting for them to return. This method is very efficient, using as little energy as possible for the badger who can take advantage of the burrow another animal dug.

Coyotes, Wolves, And Domestic Dogs Are Efficient Hunters

Wild and domestic canines are popularized as being interested in squirrels, and while they might not be the best predator to catch squirrels, they do a good enough job at it. Both domestic and wild dogs have a similar method of catching squirrels.

Since dogs can’t climb trees, they will chase squirrels to wear them out, and if the squirrels climb a tree, the dogs will wait at the base of the tree for the squirrel to come down.

This natural instinct dogs have for hunting is expressed in packs of wild canines and is used for hunting dogs where animals are chased up trees for their owner to come along and finish the job.

Raccoons Are A Squirrel Predator Well Adapted To Urban Life

The raccoon is an omnivore, originally also from North America and is now also a small nuisance in central Germany.

Raccoons might not seem like likely predators and have a common reception as scavengers, but they will happily eat a squirrel when they come across one. In fact, many rodents are a major part of a raccoon’s natural diet.

One reason that raccoons eat squirrels is that they are nocturnal and can sneak up on them when they are sleeping at night. Raccoons have also adapted well to living alongside humans and will make meals out of roadkill, squirrels included.

Generally, a raccoon is a very omnivorous animal depicted as eating anything and everything, which is not far from the truth. Raccoons are just as happy on a diet of fresh food and meat as they are digging through the trash and eating leftover scraps.

Foxes Are One Of The Most Common Squirrel Hunters

Close up of a red fox (vulpes vulpes) lying on green grass.

Not only are squirrels part of a fox’s diet, but foxes might be the most common predator for squirrels. Thanks to a wide range of habitats and being much faster animals than squirrels, foxes constitute a significant threat to them.

Most small mammals are part of a fox’s diet, although they are opportunistic predators and eat anything they can catch, including snakes, lizards, birds, and even earthworms. Foxes prefer to eat meat but are not strictly carnivorous, dining on fruits, plant bulbs, and berries if prey is scarce.

In fact, fox diets are not too far from that of a raccoon’s because while they strongly prefer meat, they will also happily dig through trash and eat anything they can find to sustain themselves.

Cats Are A Major Threat To Squirrels

While domestic cats might not be a native natural predator for squirrels, they are an animal that has a major impact on the wildlife of the ecosystems they are in. Both wild and domestic cats are some of the most efficient natural hunters and can easily catch squirrels.

Outdoor domestic cats will eat just about any animal smaller than themselves and are the number one impact on bird and rodent populations worldwide. Squirrels are better adapted to escape cats, so their presence is not as impacted as much, but cats are still a significant threat.

If you have a cat, consider using some preemptive devices to keep squirrels away from your home such as a Squirrel Repellent Pouch or Peppermint Rodent Repellent to help keep squirrels out of your pet’s reach.

The End!

Living as a squirrel is difficult, avoiding predators, cars, and fights with one another over territory. An overview of 12 natural squirrel predators includes:

  • Owls
  • Hawks
  • Falcons
  • Eagles
  • Snakes
  • Minks/Small Mammals
  • Bobcats
  • Badgers
  • Canines
  • Raccoons
  • Foxes
  • Domestic Cats

Each of these predators is well equipped as an efficient hunter, but most still need help keeping up with the nimble squirrel. Birds are especially excellent hunters, able to move quickly and unexpectedly to catch a squirrel off guard and make an easy meal of them.

If you have a problem with squirrels in your yard, here is an article about what things attract them that should help give you some tips!

References

Gibbs, H. L., Sanz, L., Pérez, A., Ochoa, A., Hassinger, A. T. B., Holding, M. L., & Calvete, J. J. (2020). The molecular basis of Venom resistance in a rattlesnake-squirrel predator-prey system. Toxicon, 177. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.toxicon.2019.12.090 

Lima, S. L., Valone, T. J., & Caraco, T. (1985). Foraging-efficiency-predation-risk trade-off in the Grey Squirrel. Animal Behaviour, 33(1), 155–165. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0003-3472(85)80129-9 

Living with wildlife: Tree Squirrels. Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/living/species-facts/tree-squirrels# 

Saunders, D. A. (n.d.). Gray squirrel (sciurus carolinensis ord). Adirondack Ecological Center | SUNY ESF | College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://www.esf.edu/aec/adks/mammals/gray_squirrel.htm 

Willson, M. F., Santo, T. L., & Sieving, K. E. (2003). Red Squirrels and predation risk to bird nests in northern forests. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 81(7), 1202–1208. https://doi.org/10.1139/z03-096

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