Backyard Squirrels: Love ‘Em, but Please Don’t Feed Them

July 2022

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Calgary is home to three species of tree squirrels, but it’s the Eastern Grey Squirrel that’s most dominant in the city. This introduced species is quite large and may have grey, black, or brown coloured fur, but most of our Calgary-born Eastern Grey Squirrels are black. This is something of a quirk, as black squirrels are pretty rare elsewhere. Eastern Grey’s reproduce quickly, adapt well to the local environment, consume more diverse foods, and are highly tolerant of human activity.

Most of the squirrels in Calgary are descendants of pets and zoo escapees from the 1930s. These sneaky critters then accomplished a feat of exponential growth that would make our randiest rabbits jealous. And when an abundant food supply is made easily accessible (bowls of peanuts put out for them for example) that exponential growth is compounded.

Squirrels in the yard can provide hours of entertainment, but they can also be extremely destructive to lawns and gardens. Like all kids growing up, I had a natural curiosity about the wildlife in my family’s backyard. Fast-forward to adulthood and my vain attempts to keep a healthy lawn and productive vegetable and flower gardens; and the question of whether to feed squirrels pits an adorable way for kids to connect with nature against some tough scientific realities.

If squirrels come to expect food and it isn’t provided, they may become very aggressive in seeking it out. Or, when food is over-supplied, their numbers increase and they become frantic diggers in lawns and gardens in an attempt to hide it from other scavengers or store it for winter. They will invade structures such as attics and garages; they cause severe damage to flowerbeds, vegetable gardens, and lawns; and they attract other hunters like coyotes and bobcats into our neighbourhoods which can also endanger our pets.

Healthy population levels range between two to six squirrels per acre but become much higher in favourable habitats where bountiful food is supplied. If you live in Fairview, as I have for 36 years, you will notice those numbers have become much, much higher. So, help us maintain a healthy urban wildlife balance, and please… do not feed the squirrels.