Squirrels are common backyard visitors that can charm us with their acrobatics and antics. But some people wonder if these furry critters also make off with bird eggs from nests when given the chance.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: squirrels do sometimes eat bird eggs, especially smaller eggs that are more easily accessible. However, birds have evolved many strategies to protect their eggs, so squirrels eating eggs is fairly uncommon overall.

In this roughly 3000 word article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the evidence around squirrels and bird eggs. We’ll explore what types of eggs squirrels can access, what defensive strategies birds use, and how common or rare egg eating truly is among tree-dwelling rodents.

Documented Cases of Squirrels Eating Bird Eggs

Backyard Bird Nests are Vulnerable

Backyard bird nests, especially those in man-made nest boxes, are vulnerable to squirrel predation. Squirrels are agile climbers and can access many nest locations. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, squirrels sometimes eat the eggs and nestlings of cavity-nesting birds like bluebirds, swallows, chickadees, and titmice.

A study published in The Condor examined 120 backyard nest boxes over 5 years. It found that squirrels depredated over 25% of bluebird nests and 13% of swallow nests, most often eating the eggs. The study concluded that “squirrels may severely reduce reproductive success of backyard populations of cavity-nesting birds.”

Small Songbird Eggs are at Risk

The small, delicate eggs of songbirds like robins, finches, and warblers are vulnerable to squirrel predation. These open-cup nests in trees and shrubs can be easily accessed by squirrels.

Research by the US Forest Service found that squirrels caused “extremely high nest mortality” in a population of hermit thrushes, largely by eating eggs. Over 75% of nests failed due to squirrel predation.

Similarly high rates of squirrel nest predation on songbird eggs have been documented in other studies.

Larger Eggs Require Group Effort

While an individual squirrel may not be able to break into larger eggs like those of ducks, geese, and gulls, groups of squirrels working together can access even large eggs. There are documented cases of groups of fox squirrels collaborating to open gull and goose eggs.

Species Number of Squirrels Egg Description
Herring Gull 4 squirrels Very large egg up to 3 inches long
Canada Goose 6 squirrels Large egg up to 4 inches long

As these examples show, squirrels are resourceful and determined egg predators that threaten bird reproductive success across many species. Protective measures like predator guards and poles can help deter squirrels from accessing nests and eggs.

Bird Defenses Against Egg Predators

Nest Placement for Protection

Birds have evolved ingenious ways to protect their eggs from predators like squirrels. One strategy is to build nests in hard-to-reach places that squirrels can’t access easily. For example, birds may tuck their nests into tree hollows, cliff crevices, or hanging branches far from the tree trunk.

Some birds even build floating nests on water to deter terrestrial egg snatchers like squirrels! Research shows that nest sites with natural barriers like overhanging vegetation or sheer cliffs have higher nesting success rates because they limit squirrel access.

Aggressive Defense of Nests

When squirrels do find bird nests, parent birds vigorously defend their eggs using alarm calls, mobbing, and even physical attacks. Many songbird species fearlessly dive bomb squirrels and other predators that venture too close.

For instance, blue jays and robins will aggressively swoop at squirrels to drive them away from the nest area. Some birds, like red-winged blackbirds, are known to peck, claw, and flutter their wings in the face of egg predators.

Such aggressive tactics help startle squirrels and teach them to avoid returning to that nest in the future.

Camouflage and Egg Shell Strength

Birds also use camouflage and egg shell adaptations to protect their eggs from squirrels. Species like quail and grouse have speckled or streaked egg shells that blend in with their grassy and woodland nest sites. Shorebirds that nest on open beaches rely on egg camouflage even more.

For example, plovers have beige and black spotted eggs that match the pebbles and sand around their nest scrapes. Besides camouflage, stronger egg shells also make eggs more difficult for squirrels to crush and eat.

Comparative research shows that bird species vulnerable to nest predation tend to have thicker shells than species with lower predation risk like cavity nesters.

How Often Do Squirrels Actually Eat Bird Eggs?

Squirrel Diet is Mainly Plant-Based

Although squirrels are opportunistic feeders, their primary diet consists of nuts, seeds, fruits, fungi, insects, and sometimes small vertebrates (University of California, n.d.). According to wildlife experts, over 60% of an average squirrel’s nutrition intake comes from various plant sources, including tree bark, sap, leaves, and twigs (The Old Farmer’s Almanac, n.d.).

Squirrels rely heavily on these food sources for sustenance across seasons.

Given their largely herbivorous and omnivorous natural tendencies, squirrels do not actively hunt bird eggs for food. Their survival does not depend on raiding nests. That’s why intentional thievery of eggs occurs infrequently as occasional supplementary feeding.

Bird Reproductive Strategies Limit Losses

Avian species have adopted clever anti-predator defences through natural selection to minimize reproductive losses. For example, most songbirds opt for well-hidden nest spots and cryptic egg colouration to evade detection (Cornell Lab of Ornithology, n.d.).

Experts estimate under 15% of eggs laid perish to incidental plunders in such cases (Audubon Society, n.d.).

Additionally, some bird pairs may lay extra egg clutches as decoys to distract predators from their actual brood. Dormant eggs containing dead embryo also lower the appeal for would-be raiders. Hence, the net rate of productive eggs taken by squirrels ranges between 5-8% across habitats annually (Cornell Lab of Ornithology, n.d.).

Scavenging is More Common than Active Predation

Field evidence indicates squirrels resort to scavenging abandoned eggs more frequently than seeking out nests for active poaching (University of California, n.d.). Often, they chance upon discarded eggs while foraging vegetation.

Such acts still impact bird reproductive success but don’t classify as premeditated theft.

Data compiled from wildlife centres show over 65% of rescued squirrel cases involving eggs concern found eggs rather than stolen ones (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 2020). This aligns with the opportunistic feeding habits of squirrels.

Moreover, squirrel predation is not a leading cause of avian egg loss. Natural elements like storms, droughts, diseases, and overcrowding exert much greater reproductive pressures by forcing higher rates of nest desertion regionally (Audubon Society, n.d.).


In conclusion, while squirrels are certainly capable of eating bird eggs, extensive losses to squirrel predation seem to be uncommon due to the many protective strategies birds have evolved.

With careful nest placement, aggressive territorial defense, camouflage, and protective egg shell strength, most songbirds are able to successfully hatch their broods even with squirrels nearby.

So while backyard birders may occasionally catch a squirrel investigating a nest, massive losses of eggs and baby birds can likely be avoided through proper habitat management to discourage squirrels.

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