Squirrels are interesting and curious little rodents that love to stare at people. If a squirrel’s been staring at you, you’re probably wondering what that squirrel stare means.
A squirrel stares at you when it wants to see what you’ll do next. Staring is part of a squirrel’s instinct to stay alive, and it’s how the squirrel decides if you are going to hurt it, be friendly, or just walk by. Then the squirrel can choose to run away, fight, beg for treats, or ignore you too.
Knowing why a squirrel is staring at you and how to read its body language will make it much easier to understand what the squirrel wants, and if it plans on being friendly or aggressive towards you. Below I’ll give you photos of staring squirrels and an explanation of what to look for when a squirrel stares, so you know what it means the next time a squirrel can’t take its eyes off you.
When a squirrel stares at you, it means that…
The squirrel wants to see what you do next
Just as you are wondering what the squirrel is doing, so the squirrel is wondering what you are doing.
If a squirrel stops what it is doing to stare at you, then you caught its attention and the squirrel wants to watch and find out what you do next. The squirrel wants to know if you are a threat, a friend, or just a passerby and nothing to worry about.
Based on your actions, sounds and smell, along with what’s going on in the area and a squirrel’s past experiences and personal situation, the squirrel decides how to react. It stops staring and either runs away, tries to fight you, begs for food or water, or ignores you and carries on with life.
A squirrel that is staring to see what you do next will typically display the following body language:
- The squirrel immediately stops whatever it is doing and holds this position, whether it is eating, climbing, playing, or working
- Its body stays very still in this position, but is usually quite relaxed
- The squirrel watches you closely with its eyes, to see if you make any sudden movements or come closer than it’s comfortable with
- The squirrel’s ears are up as it listens to hear if you make loud, attack-type sounds or any noises made by predators. Squirrels also listen for danger calls from other squirrels and the birds around them
- The squirrel’s nose twitches as it tries to smell you, to see if you are a predator. There are many smells that signal danger to squirrels and that they hate (click here for the full list of smells)
The squirrel feels threatened by you
A squirrel stares at you when it feels threatened and is getting ready to run away from you or fight you. A squirrel feels threatened if:
- You come closer than the squirrel is comfortable with. When you do this, the squirrel might think you want to catch it and eat it
- You look like a threat to the squirrel’s territory; for example, the squirrel thinks you want to take over its nest or hurt its babies
- You are close to the squirrel’s winter food stash and the squirrel thinks you might steal its food or pine cones
- The squirrel doesn’t know you or thinks you might hurt it
- The squirrel knows you but you’ve changed your routine and the squirrel doesn’t know what the new routine is or it’s scared of what happens next
A squirrel that stares because it feels threatened is on high alert and shows this in its body language to scare you away. If you don’t leave, the squirrel has no choice but to run away itself or fight back.
A squirrel that is staring because it feels threatened will typically display the following body language:
- The squirrel may lower its head and pull back its ears in anger, but some squirrels move their ears to point forward and look more intimidating
- The squirrel narrows its eyes and stares at you, not breaking eye contact for a second
- A threatened squirrel often stands very still with all four paws firmly on the ground, ready to pounce on you or run away. It might even stomp its feet
- It may make a very loud squeaking noise, growl, or chatter its teeth to warn you or scare you off
- If a squirrel puffs up its tail, it’s showing you that it’s the boss on this side of town
- The tail is stiff and the squirrel flicks it, either from side to side in frustration, or up and down as a warning to you to move away and to other squirrels that there’s danger
- If the squirrel decides to run away because you are dangerous, the squirrel will move in zig zag or unpredictable patterns so you can’t catch it. The squirrel won’t run away in a straight line
- If the squirrel is cornered or about to attack, it stands up on its back legs to make itself look bigger than it is, to scare you. Its front paws are kept close to the chest and its tail stands up along its back
- If a squirrel chases you, it probably wants you to move out of its territory and away from its nest or food – and quickly. Once you are far enough, the squirrel will most likely leave you alone and carry on with its day
Some squirrels are very territorial and fight to protect their area, especially red, California ground, and Douglas squirrels. Some squirrels, like gray squirrels, are happy to let others into their territory and will not easily start a fight, unless they need to protect themselves or their babies.
The squirrel is interested in you
A squirrel is a curious animal and it might stare at you if it becomes interested in you. This is not a squirrel that feels threatened by you. It just wants to know more about you and, perhaps, what you can offer it by way of food and drinks.
A squirrel’s curiosity is often caught by talking to it or making strange sounds that the squirrel does not know. A curious squirrel that stares will display the following body language:
- The squirrel holds its head up and often to the side or tilted, to hear and see you better
- It might move closer or stretch towards you, to smell you better and get a better view
- The squirrel’s tail stands up in the air as it examines you, ready in case it needs to make a quick getaway
- If you reach out your hand, make any sudden movements or loud noises, the squirrel is most likely to get scared and dash off into the distance
The squirrel is begging for food or drinks
What do squirrels and my dog have in common? Both are always hungry and will never say no to a snack.
A squirrel stares at you when it is begging for food or drinks. This begging usually happens in backyards or in public parks, where squirrels have become quite tame and are used to humans – and they know how to get what they want from passersby like you.
If a squirrel thinks you have food or something to drink, it will show the following body language:
- The squirrel stares at you with big, open eyes
- If there’s a designated squirrel feeder or feeding area, the squirrel runs to this area where you normally put the snacks. This is the squirrel’s way of showing you what it wants
- A tame squirrel stands on its back legs to make itself taller, so you can’t miss the begging and so it can reach whatever you are handing out
- A very tame squirrel takes food from your hands or steals food from you when the opportunity arises
There is a long list of foods that squirrels love to eat and ways to give them water, but it’s not a good idea to make squirrels tame and reliant on humans. And if you do this in your backyard, you are asking for trouble because tame squirrels are more likely to move into your house and build a nest in your roof when they aren’t scared of people.
The squirrel is asleep with its eyes open
Sometimes it looks like a squirrel is staring at you but the squirrel is actually taking a nap with its eyes open. Many people think this isn’t possible but those who rehabilitate squirrels say this happens more than you think.
A squirrel that is staring because it’s sleeping with open eyes will typically display the following body language:
- The squirrel’s eyes stay still and fixed in one area, without moving around to follow you or anything else in the area
- The animal’s eyes don’t blink, the nose doesn’t twitch, and the ears are quite still
- The squirrel’s body is motionless and relaxed, often lying flat on the ground to stay cool but the squirrel could also be sleeping while standing up
Beware of staring squirrels
Squirrels are wild animals, which makes them unpredictable. This article is just a guide on how to read squirrel stares and body language, it isn’t a guaranteed understanding of a squirrel’s mind.
We do NOT recommend getting close to any squirrel, feeding a squirrel with your hands, or trying to make friends with a squirrel, as squirrels can become aggressive and bite or scratch you.