How to Tame a Wild Squirrel

wild squirrel

Picture by tpa

I love watching squirrels playing over the ground and chasing one another up trees. I’ve been lucky to live in places that have lots of wild squirrels to watch.
Wild squirrels can be apprehensive when it comes to being around people. It isn’t difficult to tame them, however. It does take patience and the right technique, but a person can get the little critters to have enough trust to accept food from their hand or sit in the person’s lap, all while still remaining wild. It doesn’t even matter if they are ground squirrels or tree squirrels.

Understanding the skittishness

Wild squirrels have a good reason to be nervous. They have many predators, including cats, dogs, birds of prey, snakes, foxes, coyotes and many others. Instinctively, they know that most creatures that are larger than they are can be a huge threat. Humans are potential predators, so one of the first impulses the small rodent has is to run away from people. Understanding this is a first step toward taming the diminutive creature.

Human movements around wild squirrels

People often have a tendency to move in quick ways that can initially trigger a fear response in a squirrel. The animal is normally killed and eaten after quick motions by predators, after all. They have instincts that tell them, “Run! Get away!”

To gain the trust of the creature, all movements made should be exaggeratedly slow. This helps the squirrel know that there aren’t harmful intentions involved.

Posture and position

A standing person appears to be far larger than one that is sitting. Thus, to a squirrel, a sitting person isn’t as much of a threat as is a standing one. Whenever possible, sit when the animal is around, to lessen the apprehension the rodent feels. Even slowly crouching or kneeling makes a person look smaller and less dangerous, though again, this should be done slowly.

Gradual familiarity

It can take some time to get the animal used to human presence. However, over time and if nothing is done to hurt the squirrel, they often gradually get used to having people around and a lot of the fear evaporates. This is the reason why squirrels in closely packed suburbs often seem almost casual when it comes to people. The fewer people it has been around and the less time it has been around people, usually the more skittish the squirrel will be. This is part of the need for patience that was previously mentioned.

Feeding wild squirrels

Many animals respond very well when they are given foods that they particularly like. Squirrels are no exception. The food needs to be something the squirrel likes, but it should also be healthy for them. An example of food that isn’t a good choice would be potato chips. Squirrels will usually accept them and eat them ravenously, however the oil, preservatives and salt normally aren’t all that good for them to consume. Salty foods, especially, should be avoided.

Better choices might include unsalted peanuts or sunflower seeds, shredded carrots, grapes, apple slices or berries. Even peanut butter tends to be a favorite and though it often also contains salt, it is far better for the little rodent than potato chips. Incidentally, squirrels like peanuts and sunflower seeds that are still in the husks. They are quite adept at removing the shell.

The idea is to not expect the squirrel to immediately accept food from your hands. Rather, place the food in a place that is in plain sight of you, allowing the animal to get used to the idea of eating while a human is in sight. Gradually, over a matter of days or weeks, move the location of the food closer to where you sit.

Eventually, the squirrel is likely to understand that you aren’t going to cause harm, and it will probably begin accepting handouts from your hands. At that point, it is usually surprising how little time it takes before the squirrel starts getting into your lap to accept and eat its treats.

Case examples

Ground and tree squirrels are common in many national parks. One such park is Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. Though the park service has a policy of not allowing visitors to feed the wildlife, they sometimes sort of ignore the feeding of the golden mantled ground squirrels found there.

It is also possible to purchase small packets of unsalted peanuts in the park. The squirrels are used to people, due to the large number of people who visit the park, and they’ve lost most of their fear of man since it unlawful to harm the animals. It isn’t uncommon to have one enter someone’s lap to accept a peanut and many of them will remain there to eat the food.

Many are greedy, though, and might remain there to accept one peanut after another, stuffing its cheeks, before scampering away to store the food in their burrows. They often return for more, hoping that the person won’t notice what they are up to. Note: It is not recommended to feed wildlife in a national park. This is used only as an example of what can and has happened with otherwise totally wild squirrels.

It should also be mentioned that even if a wild squirrel becomes so tame that it allows you to pet it, the animal is still wild and it would be unwise to attempt to hold it. Those teeth are quite sharp and exception might be taken to being held.

If a person has patience, it isn’t hard to tame a wild squirrel to the point that it will accept food from a person’s hand or even to sit in their lap. At times, they will even happily curl up and go to sleep there. Once they are used to it, squirrels are also often happy to get scratched gently behind the ears. All of this can be done while allowing the animal to remain wild.


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