Observing what squirrels eat is a fun way to teach even the youngest kids principles of scientific observation; plus, the experiment is perfect for homeschoolers or a school science fair project.
If you’re like many people, you consider squirrels pests and would rather they not take up residence in your yard. Why not take advantage of these backyard residents by creating a fun science experiment for your kids?
For this experiment, kids will answer the question: What kind of food do the squirrels in my yard like the best? Kids learn the basic principles of observing and recording data, and you may discover the best way to keep these furry creatures out of your birdfeeder.
Step One: Research Squirrels’ Eating Habits
Check out books from the library about squirrels and use the internet to research what squirrels like to eat. Make notes from your research in a notebook. List several foods you want to test. Some foods to choose from include peanuts, corn, apples, bread, sunflower seeds, millet, or other grains or fruit. (Note: do not use nuts in the shell, because squirrels will steal these for their cache; use shelled nuts only.) What do squirrels NOT like to eat? Brainstorm some foods that squirrels typically do not eat, such as safflower seed or pure suet.
Step Two: Construct a Hypothesis about Squirrels’ Eating Habits
What do you think the squirrels will like to eat the best? Choose five that you would like to test, and have your child list the foods in order of preference. Then choose one food that squirrels do not like to eat, as a control for your experiment. In your notebook, make a list of the foods in order of what you think the squirrels will prefer, starting with the one you think the squirrels like best and ending with the control.
Step Three: Set up your Squirrel Food Experiment
Fill six identical containers with the foods you want to test and place them outside where squirrels can easily get to them and you can observe clearly from a window. In your notebook, make a chart listing the foods you are testing and leave plenty of space for tally marks.
Step Four: Observe and Record Your Data
For several days, spend about an hour each day by the window. Watch at different times of the day. Whenever you see squirrel, watch to see what it eats and mark a tally mark on your chart. If it eats corn first, then sunflower seeds, and then corn again, you would put two marks by corn and one mark by sunflower seeds.
Step Five: Compile Your Data and Make Conclusions
List the totals in your notebook. You might want to make a bar chart showing your results. Did the results match your hypothesis? Why or why not? Write your conclusions in your notebook. Write down any questions in your notebook. If you repeated the experiment, what would you do differently? What are some other foods you can test? What else would you like to learn about squirrels? Can you think of more experiments about squirrels?
Now that you’ve learned about the scientific method, you can use these principles to create other experiments and discover exciting things about the world around you.