Red squirrels have a very varied diet - pine cones, flowers, shoots, fungi, bird eggs and much more!


Learn how to search for squirrel
feeding signs


What do red squirrels eat?

Red squirrels are omnivores, meaning that they eat both plant and animal matter. The seeds of various trees make up the majority of their diet, with coniferous species such as Scots pine, sitka spruce, Norway spruce and larch being important food sources in the UK. They also feed on broadleaved species including hazel, oak and beech. Aside from trees, they make full use of the forest around them, feeding on heather and blaeberry on the forest floor, a variety of flowers, shoots, bulbs and buds in the spring and fruit, berries and fungi in the autumn. They are opportunistic feeders and will take birds' eggs and insects. Bones and deer antlers are a good source of calcium and red squirrels will chew on these. Some commonly eaten foods are shown below.

Photo credits: Larch - Heiti Paves, Sitka spruce - Anne Burgess, Douglas fir - Roland Tanglao, beech - Bill Welch, hazel - Jacki-dee, sweet chestnut - Benjamin Gimmel, Sycamore - Mike Pennington, Rosehip -, Blackberry - Steve Daniels, Fungi - AnneTanne, catkins - Evelyn Simak, caterpillar - Mike Lobb


Despite popular myth, red squirrels do not hibernate. They are active all year round, and in the winter make use of foods that they have stored in the autumn. They bury cones and nuts underground or in gaps in tree trunks.


A distinctive method of eating

It's very easy to tell if squirrels are present in a forest, as they leave characteristic feeding signs. When a squirrel eats a cone, it works its way from the bottom up, pulling out scales to get at the seed inside. It turns the cone in its paws as it goes, normally leaving the top of the cone intact as these seeds are smaller and not worth the effort of pulling out. It then discards the cone. So if you find stripped cones and piles of scales under a tree, it's likely to be a squirrel.


Learn how to identify cones eaten by a squirrel




  • A red squirrel can tell if a nut is good or not by holding it in its paws!
  • They hang mushrooms out to dry on tree branches!
  • Just like humans, red squirrels can be either left- or right-handed, or pawed!




Learn about red squirrel reproduction


View the red squirrel diet image gallery below
Scots pine cones are an important food source for red squirrels in the UK. Photo by Laurie Campbell.
Hazelnuts are a favourite food of red squirrels. Photo by David Baird.
A red squirrel feeding on sweet chestnuts. Red squirrels do well in broad-leafed woodlands as long as there are no grey squirrels present. Photo by Peter Trimming.
In winter, a large part of a red squirrel's diet is made up from seeds and nuts that it's buried earlier in the year. Photo by Laurie Campbell.
Red squirrels get most of the water they need from eating fruits, but they will also drink from pools in the forest. Photo by Peter Trimming.
A young red squirrel stripping a Scots pine cone. Note how it eats it from the bottom-up. Photo by Sylvia Duckworth.

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