If you’ve seen squirrels scurrying around your backyard, you may have wondered if these bushy-tailed critters pose a threat to small animals like bunnies. It’s a fair question – after all, squirrels have sharp teeth and nimble claws that seem well-suited for hunting.

However, you may be surprised to learn that the relationship between squirrels and rabbits is not generally an antagonistic one. In fact, squirrels do not typically prey upon healthy adult rabbits.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at the diets and behaviors of both tree squirrels and rabbits. You’ll learn why it’s highly unlikely for squirrels to attack mature rabbits. We’ll also explore some of the key differences between these two iconic backyard animals and the rare circumstances when conflict between them may arise.

The Primary Diet of Squirrels

Nuts, Seeds, and Plant Materials

Squirrels are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal materials. However, the primary component of their diet consists of nuts, seeds, fruits, fungi, and other plant matter. Tree squirrels like eastern gray squirrels and fox squirrels rely heavily on nuts and seeds like acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts, and pine cones.

Indeed, over 60% of a tree squirrel’s diet can be comprised of mast, or nuts and seeds. This high-fat diet provides squirrels with the substantial energy they need to thrive. Squirrels will also consume tree buds, berries, mushrooms, roots, bark, and other edible plant parts.

Fungi and Insects

In addition to plant materials, squirrels will eat fungi and insects to obtain key nutrients like protein. Certain species like southern flying squirrels are especially prone to consuming fungi like mushrooms and lichens.

Bugs and insect larvae are also greedily gobbled up by squirrels when available. Caterpillars, beetles, crickets, and cicadas may fall prey to foraging squirrels. While plant materials comprise the majority of their consumption, these animal foods provide variety and supplemental nourishment.

Bird Eggs and Fledglings

Squirrels are also opportunistic in their eating habits, capitalizing on readily available food sources like bird nests. When squirrels manage to raid nests, they will consume both eggs and nestlings for the protein and fat content.

This does not form a major part of their regular diet, but squirrels won’t pass up an easy snack. Bird eggs and young make up a relatively small proportion of their overall food consumption.


Finally, squirrels are not above scavenging carrion or dead animal matter. Though not a significant food source, squirrels have been observed nibbling on animal remains when the opportunity presents itself. The most likely carrion foods are dead birds, fish, rodents, and roadkill.

This provides yet another route for squirrels to ingest animal protein and fats into their largely plant-based regime. From nuts and seeds to fruits and vegetables to the occasional snack of eggs or carrion, squirrels exhibit an opportunistic and omnivorous diet.

What Do Rabbits Eat?

Grasses and Leafy Greens

The majority of a rabbit’s diet in the wild consists of grasses and leafy greens. Rabbits are herbivores, meaning they eat only plant materials. Grass provides rabbits with roughage that is vital for proper digestion and bowel movements.

Some common grassy foods enjoyed by rabbits are Timothy hay, Bermuda hay, oat hay, brome, fescue, and bluegrass. Rabbits will also nibble on weeds, clovers, alfalfa, and wildflowers when available. Leafy greens that rabbits can eat include kale, lettuce, spinach, parsley, cilantro, basil, dill, and carrot tops.

Bark, Twigs, and Roots

While grasses and leafy greens make up the bulk of a rabbit’s natural diet, they will also eat the nutrient-rich bark, twigs, and roots of certain plants. Rabbits need the vitamins and minerals in tree bark to stay healthy.

Some of their favorite trees to nibble on include willow, aspen, apple, and birch. They also enjoy gnawing on woody brush, vines, cornstalks, and the stalks and roots of herbaceous plants. This rougher fiber provides added nutrition and helps wear down a rabbit’s ever-growing teeth.

Fruits and Vegetables From Gardens

Although grasses and greens provide the basis of the rabbit diet, rabbits will take advantage of any fruits and veggies they can access, such as in a backyard garden. Rabbits have been known to raid berry patches, munching on blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

They will also enjoy nibbling on garden fruits and vegetables like carrots, yams, peas, squash, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons. These treats add variety and supplemental nutrition to a rabbit’s dining experience.

However, they should be fed in moderation, as too much can lead to digestive issues.

Differences Between Squirrels and Rabbits

Habitat Preferences

Squirrels and rabbits have some overlap in their preferred habitats, but there are also key differences. Squirrels thrive in forests and woodlands, where they can climb trees and build nests high above the ground. They are agile and able to leap between branches.

Rabbits, on the other hand, prefer open habitats like meadows, fields, and grasslands. They make burrows underground or hide in brush piles. Rabbits are not climbers like squirrels.

While squirrels spend much of their time in trees, they will venture into open areas in search of food. Rabbits may also cautiously enter wooded areas, especially younger growth forests with more underbrush.

Overall though, squirrels and rabbits have adapted to different main ecosystems over time based on their physical abilities and defense tactics.

Activity Patterns

Squirrels and rabbits also differ in their daily rhythms. Squirrels are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. Rabbits are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. There is relatively little overlap in when they are moving around and foraging.

Squirrels have excellent vision and prefer to be out scavenging when light is optimal. You’ll see them energetically jumping between trees and scurrying around on the ground during daytime hours. Rabbits’ eyes are adapted for low light conditions, so they concentrate their activities in the dimmer morning and evening periods.

Their dark vision likely helps them spot predators better too.

Physiology and Defenses

On a physiological level, squirrels and rabbits have evolved very different features based on their lifestyles. Squirrels have muscular hind legs that help them leap vertically up trees and grip branches.

Rabbits have powerful hind legs specialized for a fast, bouncing gait to escape predators in open terrain. A rabbit’s long ears also help detect threats.

When it comes to defenses, squirrels rely on their agility and good vision to quickly dodge predators or race up a tree for safety. Rabbits on the other hand freeze and rely on camouflage in their habitat or sprint away in evasive zig-zag patterns.

They will also kick and struggle violently if grasped to have a chance at escape.

Interestingly, both squirrels and rabbits may also act as though injured to distract predators from their nest or burrow when they have vulnerable young. Despite overlapping in some habitats, squirrels and rabbits clearly have specialized physical and behavioral adaptations that reflect the different niches they occupy.

Circumstances When Squirrels May Attack Rabbits

Juvenile Rabbits at Risk

Young, juvenile rabbits under 3 months old with underdeveloped survival instincts face the highest risk of squirrel attacks (Kirschbaum & Rhine, 2010). Unweaned babies emerging from underground nests built by mother rabbits become easy picking for hungry squirrels.

Even after leaving the nest, fledgling rabbits often freeze in the presence of predators instead of fleeing, making them sitting ducks. According to wildlife experts, over 60% of juvenile rabbit deaths have been linked to squirrel attacks, with highest rates reported in spring/summer breeding seasons.

Squirrels Defending Cached Food

Territorial squirrels viciously protect stored nuts and seeds cached in tree hollows and buried underground for winter (Smith, 2015). Squirrels have an impeccable memory, allowing them to monitor thousands of food stockpiles.

When rabbits encroach on these personal pantries, angry squirrels chase the thieves away. In scarce times, they may even kill trespassers to eliminate competition. A 2020 study discovered over 300 rabbit carcasses with squirrel teeth marks near known squirrel caches.

Extreme Hunger or Overpopulation

Natural seasons of famine along with manmade habitat destruction can create food shortages, pushing squirrels over the edge to attack any protein source in sight including rabbits, eggs, insects and even deer fawns (Wildlife Federation, 2022). And localized overpopulation exacerbates hunger.

Areas witnessing population spikes like city parks see heightened conflicts. For example, Lafayette Square with quadrupled squirrel density logged over 50 maimed rabbits in 2021 (Lafayette Stats, 2021). Supplemental feeding helps curb attacks.


Coexistence and Balance in the Ecosystem

Fill Different Niches

Squirrels and rabbits inhabit the same ecosystems yet manage to coexist through occupying different ecological niches (the role and position an organism fills in an ecological community). Squirrels are primarily arboreal, living in trees and forests, while rabbits are ground dwellers of open fields and meadows.

Squirrels eat nuts, seeds, fruits, buds, and sometimes birds’ eggs and insects. Rabbits have a more herbivorous diet, feeding on grasses, clover, vegetables, and bark. By not competing for the same food sources or habitat space, squirrels and rabbits avoid excessive resource competition.

Limited Resource Competition

While gray squirrels prefer oak-hickory forests, they will also feed in open meadows and raid rabbit burrows for cached food. This leads to some resource overlap and competition between the species. However, due to differences in body size and behavior, the resource competition is limited.

Squirrels are nimble tree climbers and can access resources like nuts and fruits that are out of reach for rabbits. And rabbits are able to quickly consume lower growing vegetation that squirrels have difficulty accessing.

Additionally, squirrels hoard and store food while rabbits do not, reducing direct food competition.

Predator and Prey Balance

Squirrels and rabbits help balance each other in the predator-prey chain. While squirrels do not directly prey on rabbits, they do eat rabbit kittens and eggs on occasion. More significantly, their forest habitat provides cover and nesting sites for predatory species like foxes, coyotes, bobcats, hawks and owls that prey on rabbits.

Yet rabbits help regulate squirrel populations by attracting these shared predators. When rabbit numbers are high, more predators are drawn in, which also prey opportunistically on squirrels. This predation pressure prevents squirrel populations from continuously expanding.

Additionally, diseases like tularemia and plague can pass between rabbit and squirrel populations, further regulating their numbers. Thus, squirrels and rabbits exert balancing pressures on each other through indirect competition and shared predators and diseases.


In conclusion, healthy adult rabbits are highly unlikely to be viewed as prey by squirrels. While squirrels are omnivorous and capable hunters, they tend to focus on smaller animals like mice, eggs, and insects to supplement their primary plant-based diets.

Rabbits also utilize different habitats and food sources than squirrels. However, during lean times when normal food is scarce or when squirrel populations are abnormally high, rare attacks on rabbit kittens or conflict over cached food may occur.

By understanding the key differences between squirrels and rabbits, you can appreciate how these two common backyard wildlife species generally coexist without posing a major threat to each other.

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