If you have squirrels in your yard, you’ve probably seen them eating a lot but you might be wondering what these busy little bodies drink.
An average 1-pound (450 g) squirrel needs between 1 and 3 ounces (30–90 ml) of water each day. A squirrel that weighs more, is dehydrated, is pregnant or nursing, is more active than usual, eats mostly dry food, or lives in a hot climate might need 3 ounces of water or more per day.
Squirrels that aren’t hibernating must get water daily to survive, or they will soon die. This is why squirrels have evolved to survive on liquids from some unusual places…
Where squirrels get water to drink
Squirrels first choose to drink water that’s easy to get to, close to their nesting territory, and safest from predators. In the wild, squirrels drink from streams, creeks, ponds, rivers, and lakes. In the suburbs, squirrels drink from bird baths, pet bowls, swimming pools, and dripping taps.
Squirrels do not always “drink” water because they have found or adapted different ways to get the water they need each day. For example:
- Squirrels get moisture from the foods they eat. When squirrels eat insects, plants, fruits, vegetables, fungi, tree sap, eggs, and other things, every drop of water in the food is used up by the squirrel’s efficient kidney system.
- Squirrels lick the dew off leaves early in the morning or drink water that pools in tree branches after it rains.
- Occasionally, squirrels have been seen eating snow in winter when they don’t have access to water.
- Squirrels aren’t fussy and will drink muddy water in puddles or even dirty water in sewage pipes, if they can get to it.
- Squirrels have been known to drink human beverages, like soft drinks and energy drinks (though these are not healthy for squirrels at all).
- Squirrels will also drink water lying in puddles in the pavement or road, which is how many of them get run over by cars.
- Squirrels use their strong front teeth to strip the bark off trees so they can drink the sweet, sugary sap running under the bark.
How much water squirrels need
Squirrels don’t need as much water as you might think.
Squirrels have very efficient kidneys that are good at using every drop of moisture that comes from the food a squirrel eats and the water or liquids that a squirrel takes in.
Squirrels have a slightly higher body temperature than humans, which means the heat affects them less than it affects people. A squirrel’s comfortable body temperature ranges between 98 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit (36.5 – 39 degrees Celsius), while the average human body temperature is 97 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit (36 – 37 degrees Celsius). We lose water when we sweat to cool down.
Squirrels do not sweat like humans, so they need less water to regulate their body temperature.
Squirrels do have sweat glands on their feet where they lose some moisture, but these glands are mostly there to help squirrels grip onto things and leave a scent trail wherever they go.
In fact, squirrels only really lose water when they relieve themselves (urinate and defecate).
There are many factors that affect how much water or moisture a squirrel needs each day. For example, squirrels tend to need more water:
- In hot weather, especially when it is much warmer than a squirrel’s comfortable body temperature of 98 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit (36.5 – 39 degrees Celsius). Drinking water helps to keep a squirrel hydrated and cooler in such a climate. Some squirrels wake up at night to drink water in hot weather.
- If a female squirrel is pregnant or nursing young, she needs to drink more water to nourish the babies and produce enough milk. Other than that, male squirrels are usually about the same size as females, so their water requirements are pretty much the same.
- Larger squirrels, such as gray squirrels, need to drink more water than smaller squirrels, such as flying squirrels and red squirrels. The same goes for a squirrel’s age – small young squirrels require less water than fully grown adults.
How squirrels drink water
Squirrels drink water by lapping it up with their tongue in quick movements. They put their tongue into the water then curl it up to catch some water, which they pass back into their mouth. Then they straighten their tongue and put it back in the water to catch more.
Squirrels often drink water very quickly because they are in danger of being attacked by predators when they have their heads down to drink.
The following video shows a thirsty squirrel drinking out of a birdbath. Each time the squirrel’s lower jaw drops, the squirrel is using its tongue to lap up water. When the lower jaw closes, the squirrel is swallowing the water it just caught in its mouth.
Should you put water out for squirrels
Some people believe that it is good to put water out for animals like squirrels, to help them survive.
They put large stones in the buckets and baths so that small squirrels, birds and other animals can climb out, without drowning.
But leaving water out for squirrels can have some negative consequences that you need to think about:
- Standing water attracts predators and competition to your property, like raccoons and non-native squirrels, who want to drink the water too. These predators and competitors can have a devastating effect on the squirrels living in your area and on other wildlife. They often attack the native species or eat all the food, so local animals get killed or starve to death.
- Standing water attracts mosquitoes, who lay their eggs in the water. You could soon get a mosquito infestation.
- If your water attracts a lot of animals to your area, diseases could spread between these animals because they are coming into close contact with each other in a smaller space than usual.
- Giving water to squirrels can make them dependent on humans and they could become tame. This disrupts their natural way of life in the wild. They could lose the ability or motivation to take care of themselves (becoming lazy), or they could lose their fear of humans and become aggressive or move into your roof because they are no longer scared of you.
When looking at the pros and cons of giving squirrels water, knowing that squirrels need very little water and that their bodies have evolved to use whatever moisture they take in, it seems that it is better not to put out water for squirrels to drink.