What Are the Dangers of Feeding Squirrels?

By Chris Miksen

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Squirrels are cute and entertaining to watch, but you can bank on their adorableness and entertaining qualities diminishing if you set up a feeder to fill their bellies. Word gets around quickly in the squirrel world. When the animals hear that a few of their kin are cashing in on free food, the whole caravan comes over to check things out. Inflated populations of squirrels lead to big problems.

Housing Woes

With squirrels roaming your yard, your home, as well as your neighbors', can turn into a rent-free pad for the animals. Squirrels can either sneak their way right into your attic or eat their way in, ultimately causing plenty of damage. They might also hide out in your shed, particularly if you rarely frequent the premises. Squirrels like attics and undisturbed areas in general, and they especially love enclosed areas in winter for the warmth. If their food source is also right outside, that's even more reason to move on in. The problem is compounded when the population of squirrels in your area grows out of control because that food has attracted so many.

Destroyed Vegetation

Suppose you stop feeding the suddenly inflated population of squirrels. While it would be nice if they all slunk back to their previous homes, they won't -- at least not initially. Sally Scalera, horticulture agent for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services Cooperative Extension, points out that the squirrels will instead scour the yards in your neighborhood for food. In the process, they'll decimate vegetation, ruin gardens and possibly even eat the bark from trees. They'll also tear up yards and gardens come fall or just before, when squirrels start stockpiling acorns, nuts and other food. Your yard and garden serve as their food depositories.

Diseases and Parasites

Squirrels are cute, but the things that crawl on them are not. Fleas, mites, ticks, lice and other parasites nestle inside a squirrel's fur and feed off its blood. Attract a lot of squirrels to your neighborhood and the chances of parasites jumping onto you and your pets and setting up shop inside your house shoot up dramatically. Even worse, the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program notes that squirrels carry diseases, such as ringworm and tularemia, that can be transmitted to humans.

Dangers of Feeding By Hand

If you're interested in feeding the occasional squirrel by hand rather than setting up a feeder outside your house, reconsider. Feeding squirrels by hand teaches them that they have nothing to fear from humans. That can lead to them getting too comfortable around people and in residential areas. Squirrels should maintain their natural fear of humans and the areas in which they live. Otherwise, they're at a higher risk of encountering predators -- including neighborhood predators, such as cats and dogs -- and running on roads and getting hit by cars. Feeding by hand can also lead to squirrels biting you, which can result in the contraction of diseases.

Solutions

If you'd like to keep a few squirrels passing through your yard, consider feeding them naturally. Scalera points out that natural feeding -- primarily by planting trees -- keeps their population numbers in check. She suggests red maples, pignut hickories, hackberries and Chickasaw plums. That's not an all-inclusive list, and the trees mentioned may not grow in your area of the country or may be too large for your yard. Always do a bit of research before making any plant purchases.

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Author

Located in Pittsburgh, Chris Miksen has been writing instructional articles on a wide range of topics for online publications since 2007. He currently owns and operates a vending business. Miksen has written a variety of technical and business articles throughout his writing career. He studied journalism at the Community College of Allegheny County.