Ground squirrels are voracious eaters, and they love to chow down on seeds, roots, fruit, insects, and leafy, green vegetation.
Part of what makes ground squirrels so challenging to live with is the fact that they love to dig up newly planted seeds in gardens and will quickly destroy even the most manicured outdoor space.
Here at Smith’s Pest Management, we help customers in the San Francisco Bay Area get rid of ground squirrels daily, and we know exactly which foods these frustrating, burrowing pests prefer.
Keep reading to learn more about ground squirrels, their habits, what they eat, and how to keep them from devouring your lawn, garden, or landscaping.
- Ground squirrels primarily eat seeds, roots, fruit, leafy vegetation, insects, and other small animals.
- Protect your plants and gardens by installing ground squirrel fencing and burying hardware mesh under your raised garden beds.
- If you need additional assistance, a professional team like Smith’s Pest Management can help you control ground squirrel populations and protect your plants, gardens, and lawns.
What are Ground Squirrels?
Ground squirrels (scientific name Spermophilus beecheyi) are destructive, burrowing rodents found throughout the western US.
Also called gophers, ground squirrels are common around buildings, near concrete foundations, in laws and golf courses, and in residential gardens.
Ground squirrels are easy to differentiate from tree squirrels thanks to their short, stubby tails. Unlike tree squirrels, ground squirrels are poor climbers, so they live on and under the ground, preferring habitats like fields, brushy areas, and lawns.
While ground squirrels are active year-round in temperate environments, they hibernate from mid-fall to early spring in colder climates. Each spring, females give birth to a single litter of 4-8 pups.
What do Ground Squirrels Eat?
Ground squirrels are seasonal eaters, preferring different food sources at different times of the year.
During the fall and summer, they focus on foraging for seeds, which they can find everywhere, from residential lawns to fields.
They’re not picky about what kinds of seeds they’ll consume – they’re happy to eat spilled birdseed, the seeds of weed plants or crops, or the seeds you just planted in your garden.
When they find a good source of seeds, they’ll cache large quantities of them in their burrows, which they’ll eat when the weather gets bad, or during times of the year when their other food sources are scarce.
In fact, ground squirrels are famous for digging up and eating newly planted seeds before they have a chance to sprout.
As ground squirrels burrow, they’ll damage young shrubs, vines, and trees by gnawing on their roots and bark and girdling their trunks.
They’ll also eat the twigs and leaves of these plants.
As if that weren’t enough, the burrows they create in and around tree and shrub roots can damage and dry out plants, eventually killing them or causing them to topple over.
In some cases, ground squirrels can even damage or destroy plastic sprinkler heads and irrigation boxes with their digging.
Ground squirrels love to eat fruit and are especially fond of almond, apple, apricot, avocado, orange, pistachio, peach, prune, and walnut trees.
If they can reach ripe fruit, they’ll take it right off the tree.
They’ll also consume fruit that falls to the ground and may even eat fruit tree seedlings as soon as you put them in the ground.
4. Insects and animal protein
Ground squirrels are omnivores. In fact, an estimated 50% of their diet comes from animal protein.
When they can’t find the seeds, fruit, or leafy greens they love to eat, they’re happy to hunt for insects.
Again, they’re not picky: ground squirrels will hunt and capture a variety of creepy crawlies, including grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, ants, earthworms, and more.
Occasionally, ground squirrels will even consume carrion, small birds, eggs, mice, or other ground squirrels!
5. Green vegetation
Ground squirrels love eating the green vegetation and forage around their burrows.
When they emerge from hibernation in the spring, they take advantage of all the green growth around them and feed almost exclusively on herbaceous plants and green grasses.
Since they can’t climb, they tend to stay close to their burrows, grazing within a 75-yard radius of the burrow entrance.
Tips to Prevent Ground Squirrel Damage
Ground squirrels can destroy your lawn and garden. To protect your shrubs, plants, and crops, follow these prevention tips:
- Install protective fencing. Install exclusion fences around individual plants to keep ground squirrels from eating your fruit trees, flowers, seedlings, and ornamental grasses. To prevent ground squirrels from squeezing through, use mesh fencing, chicken wire, or hardware wire with gaps ¼” or smaller and extend the fence at least 30” above the ground line. To keep them from digging under the fencing, bury it at least 6” below-ground. If you’re planting a new garden, you can also bury galvanized hardware cloth in the ground before you plant your seedlings and then use floating row covers or bird netting to protect them from above.
- Remove cover. Ground squirrels use brush and vegetation as cover. To remove their hiding spots, get rid of brush piles, debris, and other vegetation.
- Destroy old burrows. Ground squirrels often invade sites by moving into vacant burrows left behind by other animals, like moles. To prevent this, destroy any old burrows on your property by ripping them with a tractor and ripping bars. For best results, we recommend destroying them to a minimum depth of 20”.
For more information on protecting your lawn and garden from ground squirrels, check out our comprehensive blog.
Are Ground Squirrels Destroying Your Lawn and Garden? We can Help!
Ground squirrels are destructive, frustrating pests. Even a few of them can transform your manicured, beautiful outdoor space into an unsightly, stressful mess.
Fortunately, you don’t have to live with them forever.
Our team helps residential and commercial customers throughout Northern California resolve ground squirrel infestations, prevent ongoing ground squirrel damage, and keep the pests from coming back.
Ready to stop sharing your property with ground squirrels? Call for a free quote today: (408) 871-6988
Ground Squirrel FAQ
1. How deep do ground squirrels burrow?
While most ground squirrel burrows are 2-3’ deep, some can be as deep as 6’. Additionally, ground squirrel burrows can be complex, branched systems or single tunnels.
2. Will ground squirrels go away on their own?
No. Leaving a ground squirrel infestation alone won’t fix it. As long as ground squirrels can find the food and shelter they need, they’ll thrive on your property.
To get rid of a ground squirrel infestation, take preventative measures like installing exclusion fencing. You can also contact a professional pest management company to start a trapping or baiting program.
3. Do ground squirrels carry diseases?
Yes. Ground squirrels are associated with the spread of diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, rat bite fever, Chagas’ disease, and plague.