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Do Squirrels Eat Pine Cones?

Squirrels are fascinating creatures to watch, and they are often running around collecting food and bits and pieces to eat or store.

It can be difficult finding signs of squirrels in your garden or in a wood near your house, but one thing you can look for is food sources and signs of foraging and feeding. You might even have a pet squirrel and be wondering if including pine cones in their diet is a good idea.

Do squirrels eat pine cones? Squirrels do eat pine cones, but they do have their preferences on when to eat them, and what type of pine cones they prefer. You can often find pine cone cores or stripped pine cone scales lying around under conifer trees, and this is a good sign that squirrels have been feeding.

Read on to find out more about why and how squirrels eat pine cones and the nutritional benefits that pine cones have for these busy little creatures!

What Are Pine Cones?

Pine cones come from pine trees. They hold and protect pine nuts or pine seeds from the tree, and keep them safe from predators, the wind, and harsh temperatures.

In fact, the pine cones that you see fallen on the ground are female pine cones. Female pine cones are responsible for protecting the seeds underneath their hard cone scales and are also a good source of food for a range of different woodland animals.

Male pine cones release pollen and are much smaller than female cones. The pollen released from the male pine cones drift through the air and fertilize the female cones when they come into contact with them.

Do Squirrels Eat Pine Cones?

Squirrels love eating pine cones, and they are an important food source for them. To many of us, pine cones do not seem like a very nutritious or tasty source of food, but to squirrels, pine cones form an important part of their diet.

Both squirrels in the wild, and pet squirrels, can benefit from pine cones in their diet, and they will happily chew through the pine cones to get down to the seeds in the center.

Not only do squirrels enjoy munching away on pine cones, but they will also store pine cones away to enjoy at a later stage. They will go through stages of foraging for these pine cones, usually green pine cones, and hide them away to build up their stash.

Squirrels have sharp, strong teeth, and because of this, they can easily break through the tougher outer scales of the pine cone, nibbling their way through to the center to get to the seeds. Both brown and green pine cones are fine for squirrels to eat, but they do have their preferences.

If you’ve never seen a squirrel eat a pine cone and are curious about how they peel off the hard outer shell, here’s a video from the MyBackyardBirding channel on YouTube.

What Type Of Pine Cones Do Squirrels Prefer?

Squirrels tend to prefer to eat the female pine cones, as they are larger, and as they hold the delicious seeds in the center, which is what the squirrels are after when stripping the pine cones.

However, they can be found eating both brown and green pine cones, and some might prefer green, unripe pine cones.

Green pine cones hold much more nutritional content for squirrels, and most of the time still contain those tasty seeds. As pine cones mature, the scales open and spread, and this releases and disperses the seeds held inside. The green pine cones are still tightly closed, and the seeds aren’t dispersed yet.

The seeds of the pine cone are what give the squirrels the most nutritional value, so squirrels often go after the green pine cones before the brown ones.

Squirrels also like to store away green pine cones to enjoy at a later stage, as these pine cones still have time left before maturing and can be stored away safely without the seeds being lost.

Green pine cones, when stored away, will also not rot or be affected by high or low temperatures. They open up when spring comes round, so they store away perfectly. Not even rain and damp conditions can ruin them!

So while squirrels can be seen munching on brown pine cones, they definitely prefer the green ones more!

Which Squirrels Eat Pine Cones?

In your area, you’ll probably notice a population of either red or grey squirrels, and while the two have very different characteristics, and sometimes even behavior, they do enjoy much of the same foods.

Both grey and red squirrels enjoy eating pine cones, and both leave behind the cores of pine cones, as well as stripped scales, underneath conifer trees. If you find these leftovers, you can deduce that squirrels have been close by and eating, but you probably won’t be able to tell what type of squirrel it was.

If you live near some pine trees, keep a close watch outdoors to see what type of squirrel you have foraging in your garden!

Do Baby Squirrels Eat Pine Cones?

After about three months of age, baby squirrels will start chewing on different foods and begin to discover solid foods on their own. However, at this age, the baby squirrels are still unsure of what foods are safe to eat or not, and if you are the caretaker of a baby squirrel, you have to be careful with what you feed them.

Fortunately, green pine cones are good for baby squirrels to eat. It is important that these green pine cones are still fairly tender, and not too hard. You should also avoid feeding your baby squirrel pine cones that have been left on the floor for too long, as these could have too much moisture, and contain bacteria. 

In the wild, the baby squirrel will follow the lead of their mother, and at about ten weeks old, they will become fully independent. By then, they should be able to determine what type of food is safe to consume, and might have already grown a fondness towards pine cones!

What Nutritional Benefits Do Pine Cones Hold For Squirrels?

Green pine cones have the most nutritional value for squirrels when compared to ripe brown pine cones. As they have not dried out or matured yet, these green pine cones are still fairly tender, and still contain the central seeds or nuts, and extracting these nuts is easy thanks to the pine cones’ tenderness.

Squirrels will eat both the nuts and the outside scales of the cone, making a whole meal out of it. While the unripe green pine cones have the delicious seeds and tasty outside scales, squirrels will still eat mature brown cones if they are the only ones that they can find.

Green pine cones have a high nutritional value and are a great source of fiber and different vitamins for squirrels. They play an important role in their diets, which is why squirrels like to store green pine cones, to ensure that they always have these nutritional snacks close by.

The seeds or nuts inside of the green pine cones offer up a good source of vitamin K, protein, thiamin, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, and magnesium. These healthy vitamins and minerals are essential for a little squirrel’s survival!

Why Do Squirrels Collect And Hoard Pine Cones?

Squirrels have a great understanding of the seasons. They know that food is scarce in winter, and they are scatter-hoarders. This means that they collect and hide food across a bunch of different locations within their territory. 

Some of the items that squirrels hoard are pine cones, nuts, and berries. Using their spatial memory, squirrels can recover up to 80% of their stored food.

Squirrels know that green pine cones can be stored for a long time, and are a reliable source of nutrition when food is scarce. In some cases, squirrels hoard and keep these green pine cones for years before coming back to them.

During the winter, a squirrel that has hoarded food properly will not have to worry about going without it.

Final Thoughts

Squirrels love to eat pine cones, and they much prefer unripe green pine cones over the ripe brown ones. This is because the green pine cones are still tender, and contain the nutritious and delicious nuts that squirrels love to eat.

Squirrels will store these green pine cones all over their territory, to eat when winter comes. These green pine cones last for a long time and are a reliable food source for squirrels.

If the need arises, squirrels will also nibble away on brown pine cones too!

Related Questions

What Kinds Of Animals Eat Pine Cones?

There are a few types of small animals that eat pine cones, such as squirrels, chipmunks, voles, grouse, woodpeckers, and other small birds.

Do Squirrels Eat Hazelnuts?

Squirrels love to eat hazelnuts. When finding hazelnuts in the wild, squirrels will split the nut in half neatly, and nibble on the nutty flesh.

Squirrels are also known to nibble on fungi in the wild and leave large bite marks on the fungi. They also take pieces of fungi to store away in trees to dry out.

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