What Affects Squirrel Population

What Affects Squirrel Population

Things That Affects Squirrel Population

After two unsuccessful squirrel hunts, near home, I finally began taking stock of my surroundings. I was encountering bushy tails, but they were not in trees. They were feeding on soybeans and would run to the woods when spooked. Closer observation told me why. There are very few nuts.

The only hickories with mast are pignuts. I have a kingnut shellbark hickory next to my barn and know where another is near me; neither has a single nut. I went to the best producing white oak stand I know of and there were a few acorns, but not many. Save for one pignut tree, the hickories I found were barren of mast.

This is a scenario played out during some seasons when the mast crop is down and is what affects squirrel population. A late frost is the likely culprit and when this occurs it usually results in a reduced squirrel population the following fall. Mast crops like hickory nuts, beech nuts and acorns all provide food for the squirrels and when these mast crops are down squirrels become nutritionally stressed. Their immune system also can become compromised, making them susceptible to disease leaving their reaction times slow. This can decrease squirrel populations and it takes the squirrels longer to recover from this type of decline. It can be much better to harvest a few each season to keep the squirrels healthy.

Food Habits of Squirrels

Both gray and fox squirrels eat different kinds of plant, fungi, and animal foods. Squirrels will eat mast (acorns, nuts, seeds, and fruits) from many different trees and shrubs. Oak, hickory, beech, pecan, and black walnut mast are very good squirrel foods. Pine seed (especially longleaf pine) is also an important squirrel food, especially when oak and hickory mast is scarce. Fruits of black and tupelo gums, dogwood, black cherry, wild plums, mulberry and pawpaw are also preferred foods. Squirrels eat mushrooms and other fungi, insects, grubs and other invertebrates, and eggs. During spring, squirrels eat tender young leaves and buds. In some areas, squirrels can actually damage agricultural or orchard crops like corn and pecans.

Hunting Squirrels Can Help Squirrel Population

Hunters can aid the plight of the squirrel population by killing and eating a few. Nothing is finer than  fried squirrel with biscuits and gravy and removing a few squirrels from an area can help maintain a healthy population and in those lean years when food is scarce these healthy squirrels with fewer numbers will make it just fine. Hunting squirrels and removing a few from the area the remaining squirrels will become more healthy. Healthy squirrels have more babies. Also the area will attract squirrels from outside areas to fill the void left by harvesting. Removing a few squirrels from your hunting area can help maintain a healthy squirrel population.

If you are a squirrel hunter and you notice a bumper crop of mast with nuts laying all over the place then take note. You will likely see a population boom along with those nuts. This is great and you think you will have squirrels for a long time with this squirrel population boom but is this the case? The problem with a population boom in your squirrel population is that when the following fall produces less mast or worse, a lot less mast, then the squirrel population will suffer dramatically. Some squirrels will leave but the majority of the squirrels that were produced because of the bumper crop of mast will become malnourished and the entire population can be effected by this. So when you see a bumper crop of acorns and other nuts and you see an explosion of squirrels you should take a few more that season. This will help keep the entire squirrel population healthy.

Homemade Squirrel Nests

If your woods has young trees with few natural cavities it can be enhanced for squirrels. Building and hanging nest boxes made from lumber, sawmill slabs, or sections of hollow log can create nesting for your squirrel population. Lack of nesting availability can leave your woods without as many squirrels even when there is enough food to support them. Squirrels should have four or five nest cavities per acre. Several other species of wildlife will benefit from these homemade nesting structures as well.

Farming Practices That Affects Squirrel Population

Winter and farming practices can also be a deciding factor in squirrel population. Squirrels that have access to no-till fields should find enough to eat. If the farmer plows before winter then that food source is gone. It is amazing how long squirrels and other wildlife can locate remnants of a crop field after it is harvested. I’ve hunted picked cornfields that had deer and squirrels eating from it daily. I thought it was just bare dirt and stubble until I walked into the field and looked around. I found corn everywhere. From a distance the corn kernels and occasional cobs with corn still attached littered the field and attracted the wildlife to it. These harvested fields are gold mines for squirrels when the mast crop is down and can help maintain a population that would have otherwise left for greener pastures or starved. This is why hunting along picked corn fields can make for some great squirrel hunts in the winter. This leads us into our next paragraph that explains the importance of harvesting squirrel to help maintain a healthy population.

Question From Instagram About Squirrel And Mast Crop


Went out for 2 21/2 hours. Ever been in the woods and think maybe a nuclear bomb went off right before you got there? Dead silent, one raven. No birds, nothing. Storm coming, maybe that’s it. I will probably go tomorrow. Acorns where non-existent this year. Last year it rained acorns.


No acorns squirrels will travel. My grandfather said he actually saw a squirrel migration. He was deer hunting as a boy and he heard a strange sound heading his way it ended up being, he said at least 1000 squirrels running together and never knew he was there as they were traveling with a purpose. The game warden told him it was squirrels leaving a place or region without a mast crop to find food. He said it was common before the white man got here and started to harvest them for survival and to serve in the fanciest restaurants in America, as a delicacy.


So if there are no acorns there, how far do I need to go? Or would there be none for miles?


I’m not familiar with the big woods up there but here because I also look for mast crop like acorns. I often can move a ridge or two over and find some. That’s why I moved here where I have 6,000 acres of public land that comes to my driveway and a few miles away I hunt 170000 acres bow hunting only except 2 draw gun weekends. With that much land to hunt I’ve never seen where there was no acorns at all. In fact for deer hunting but also squirrel it is better for the hunter because those ridges with acorns will concentrate all game.

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About Ken McBroom 307 Articles
Ken McBroom is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer. Growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee allowed him many opportunities afield as a boy and young man. Later in life, after Desert Storm, Ken’s wanderlust took him to Alaska to live and work and experience the last frontier. Married now with two beautiful children, Ken now calls Kentucky home where he continues to communicate our American outdoor traditions and the lifestyle it offers.


  1. We are struggling with a massive squirrel population. Although setting out poison tubes and hunting them. It’s nothing.

    We have three cottontail rabbits. I believe increasing their numbers, they’d replace the squirrels that are undoing our building foundations. So what do you think? Feed the rabbits a bit, and they will replace the squirrels? We have tons of coyotes and rattlesnakes here too. Could there be millions of squirrels and three rabbits? Isn’t this a good wildlife management technique?

  2. Hi Sally. The problem with replacing the squirrels with rabbits is two-fold. First rabbits and squirrels eat different foods so the rabbits would not replace the squirrels. Secondly, rabbits are much easier for the coyotes and rattlesnakes to get and this is why the rabbit population is usually always less than squirrels where they reside together. I see rabbits here on my place rarely but the squirrels are everywhere. When the rabbits show up around my place coyote sightings along with hawk sightings dramatically increase. Squirrels can be very destructive, I know what you mean. Squirrel populations, like all species, fluctuate up and down. Time will probably reduce the squirrel population better than anything else. One reason is if the food is available then even when you kill some there will be more to move in to take advantage of the habitat your current population is enjoying. Check out this great article written for my website by Cahnce Vorderstrasse that explains this very thing when it comes to controlling coyotes- Coyote Control

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