Squirrels and Buried Acorns

Last Updated on January 22, 2021 by Nancie

Squirrel on the ground eating bird seed.
Squirrel on the Ground

You’ve probably seen squirrels burying acorns to get through the winter. But what happens when there is a thick coat or snow and/or ice on the ground? Squirrels and their buried acorns can impact your feeders!

Squirrels Hole Up During Blizzard

Here in Maryland, we are about a week past a blizzard that dropped about 30” of snow on the yard. The snow started Friday afternoon and as you would expect, the birds were very active all day.

I topped off the feeders several times as birds were busy filling up with more food than usual, for the energy stores to last through the storm. The snow continued all night and then all day Saturday and into Saturday night. The birds were out in the worst of it, continuing to eat. (And I was out in it too, continuing to top off the feeders.)

But lately we’ve had at least fourteen squirrels in the yard. So where were the squirrels during all this? I saw them Friday as usual but they seemed to have holed up in their nests during the blizzard itself. They were not in evidence during the storm. It wasn’t until afterwards that they made themselves known and boy, did they make themselves known!

Squirrel eating suet
Squirrel Eating Suet

Squirrels Attacking Every Feeder

The squirrels behaved like little furry mad things. They tried to get into every feeder repeatedly. They even tried the Squirrel Buster Plus feeders and feeders on a pole they had not succeeded in getting into in the past. Brome Bird Feeders on Amazon (While they still couldn’t get into them, their repeated attempts spooked birds trying to eat every time.)

Safflower seed is not their favorite food, but they still got into the ground feeders full of it. And they dangled from every suet feeder, even though they were filled with Hot Pepper Suet which they are not supposed to like.

Repeated straight-on runs at birds on the ground scared them away from the ground feeders and any seed on the ground. Squirrels chased each other all around the tree trunks and branches where feeders hung, again scaring away the birds repeatedly.

Buried Acorns

The squirrels have always made a pain of themselves, but this was on another level. It wasn’t until yesterday, as the snow started to melt that it dawned on me what their craziness was about.

In the fall, the squirrels had buried tons of acorns all through the yard. With 30” of snow covering almost every bit of the ground, they couldn’t get to their stashes. So, being hungry, they were going after the normally less appealing safflower seed and the less tasty suet.

Squirrel in his feeder
I Fill This Feeder with Sunflower Seeds for the Squirrels

I do have a squirrel feeder filled with sunflower seed right up next to a small tree trunk in a different part of the yard. And there is a squirrel feeding station with compressed corn and nut product. (I am trying to entice them to eat these instead of getting into the birds’ feeders. While that doesn’t keep them from going after the bird’s food, it has helped take the edge off it.) What I wasn’t considering was that with less of their own stash available, they were relying more on the birds’ food to fill in the gap.

As the snow melts, squirrels dig out their buried acorns
As the Snow Melts, the Squirrels Dig Out Their Acorns

Melting Snow & Back To Normal

Today, there are larger patches of grass opening up where the snow cover is melting away, although there is still a good bit of snow on the ground. The squirrels are around but they are back to their usual level of annoyance. They aren’t harassing the birds nearly as much.

Next time we have a big snow like this, I’ll have to keep the squirrels and their buried acorns in mind. I’d like to come up with a snow strategy to keep them busy elsewhere so aren’t harassing birds. That probably means putting more food out for them. Sigh. Of course, I must admit that I’d not be adverse to a Red-Shouldered Hawk coming through to dine on a few squirrels. Fourteen squirrels on a one-acre lot is more squirrels than I want to deal with or feed!

2019 Update: I now have twenty-five bird feeders. They are set up so that squirrels can’t get into any of them. So the Red-Shouldered Hawk was not needed. See my posts on how to Keep Squirrels Out of Feeders and Solving Squirrel Bird Feeder Problems.

I also no longer feed squirrels other than the random bit of fruit left over from making dinner, but I will keep their acorns in mind if we should have another blizzard like we did in 2016.

Nancie


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4 thoughts on “Squirrels and Buried Acorns

  1. I’ve had two Brome’s for several years. They were the best investment I’ve made. Now that I’m near 70, I moved them and 3 other feeders within an arm’s reach of my porch railing. From my computer, I get to watch the birds dine on their favorite seed (also stored in an aluminum trash can on the porch). Yesterday (in CT), during our snowstorm, a small hawk (don’t know the species) perched on my rocker. I couldn’t grab my camera fast enough! They have come close before, especially when my cat is playing with a mouse or mole! I wouldn’t trade living here in the country for all the birdseed in the local grain store.

    Thanks for sharing your stories and knowledge of birding!

    1. I love my Brome feeders too. If I had to pick only one feeder for my yard, I’d pick a Squirrel Buster Plus feeder. : ) I’ll bet the small hawk was either a Cooper’s Hawk or a Sharp-Shinned Hawk. They are the small hawks that are most likely to hunt at bird feeders (although I’ve had the much larger Red-Shouldered and Red-Tailed Hawks hunt in my yard too, so you never know who will turn up!) The FeederWatch site (Cornell Lab) has a good page on telling the Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-Shinned Hawks apart if you are interested: http://feederwatch.org/learn/tricky-bird-ids/coopers-hawk-and-sharp-shinned-hawk/

  2. In Kansas the birds are only interested in my seed in early spring it seems. Probably eating out in the fields, that’s my guess. The squirrels in my yard only bury the black walnuts from the tree in the ground. The acorns from the oak are shelled up in the trees . My backyard is covered with acorn hulls by the end of September. I believe they stash the meat of the acorn in their nests so if the snow gets deep and when the grounds too frozen to dig the walnuts they have something to eat.

    1. Hi Diana,
      That makes sense. Here in Maryland, my yard’s bird activity gets a lot slower in the summer months but doesn’t stop completely, but I don’t have fields with seed nearby to tempt them away. It’s interesting that the squirrels in your area seem to have a different strategy for nuts than I see in mine. The squirrels here love to bury acorns but we don’t have any black walnuts in the yard, just oaks, so they have to make due with the acorns. I think they also steal peanuts in the shell that birds have stashed. In Maryland, our winters are trending warmer so the ground doesn’t get frozen solid or buried deep with snow as often. That might be a difference too. Interesting!
      Nancie

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