I've heard anecdotal reports of squirrels bringing up gifts to a person's house after that person left out food for them. Sounds bizzare and unbelievable, until I actually saw some kind of a nut right on the welcome mat in front of the door. I moved it and saw that it was eaten (shell fragments) a couple days later, telling me that it was actually a good nut.

This makes me ask - is this just a coincidence, or do some animals, like squirrels indeed offer gifts or tribute to humans?

I'm aware that cats frequently bring killed animals to human doorstep:

By leaving a dead animal on the back porch, your cat is acting out its natural role as mother and teacher. You, her loving owner, represent her surrogate family. And frankly, she knows you would never have been able to catch that delicious mouse on your own.

However, for squirrels there's no domesticated relationship, humans are not a part of their family. Why would this behavior take place?

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    $\begingroup$ Crows have been known to reciprocate. You may be interested in the BBC news article "Girl Who Gets Gifts From Birds" bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-31604026 $\endgroup$
    – PCARR
    Sep 25, 2015 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ @PCARR John Marzluff's book Gifts of the Crow looks into this behavior even further from an ethologist's perspective. $\endgroup$
    – Corvus
    Nov 29, 2015 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Corvus Oh cool! Crows are amazing, I'll check this out. $\endgroup$
    – PCARR
    Nov 30, 2015 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ I am almost sure squirrels are simply not intelligent enough for this $\endgroup$
    – FloriOn
    Jan 27, 2016 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ I was wondering the same, because I have been putting out birdseed, which the squirrels eat. This morning there was a HUGE perfect pine cone in the middle of back door mat,(it's under a car port , so it did't just land there.) I know the squirrels eat pinecones. My husband is convinced it's some social behavior that's being demonstrated. $\endgroup$
    – user23182
    Apr 13, 2016 at 4:43

2 Answers 2


I believe a lot of these behaviours can fall under the umbrella term of reciprocity, or reciprocal altruism.

In evolutionary biology, reciprocal altruism is a behaviour whereby an organism acts in a manner that temporarily reduces its fitness while increasing another organism's fitness, with the expectation that the other organism will act in a similar manner at a later time (...) The concept is close to the strategy of "tit for tat" used in game theory.

For example, red-winged blackbird males help defend neighbor's nests. There has been some discussion around the reasons for this behaviour, but it has been observed that males reduced the amount of defense given to neighbors when neighbor males also reduced defense for their nests. Since kin selection doesn't seem to be an important factor here, this would support a tit-for-tat strategy (animals help those who previously helped them).

Some primates do this frequently too:

A monkey will present its back to another monkey, who will pick out parasites; after a time the roles will be reversed. Such reciprocity will pay off, in evolutionary terms, as long as the costs of helping are less than the benefits of being helped and as long as animals will not gain in the long run by "cheating" – that is to say, by receiving favours without returning them.

The example with the crows, mentioned in the comment, can be interpreted under this light too. Those crows seem to give presents expecting something in return (albeit delayed!).

What's interesting though is that altruism, at first sight, would seem to go against reproductive success. Group Selection, however, is something Darwin was already talking about in Origin of the Species.

So, back to squirrels. I didn't find particular research about them in their relationship with humans (will keep looking), but analysing it under reciprocal altruism it could be justified that they give nuts expecting a potential future benefit for them or their group. There's much more to this complex dynamic, but reciprocity is definitely a strong candidate for explaining your kind gift-presenting squirrels.

Some quick references and materials:


Look, I searched your question about the animals that bring to humans some "gifts" and the only thing I found, was only for the cats. So, if you are intrested check this :

Cats are, first and foremost, natural-born hunters, as recent studies of the effects that feral and indoor-outdoor cats have on bird and rodent populations have shown. Cats allegedly kill billions of small animals every year in the United States alone. But that doesn’t make them evil — just extremely well-adapted to a carnivorous lifestyle.

Though they were first domesticated nearly 10,000 years ago, cats retain the keen hunting instincts of their wild ancestors, as well as the simple gut that allows them to digest raw meat.

However, many cats don't eat their prey, and sometimes they don't even kill it. (If you've ever had to chase an injured squirrel out of your kitchen, then you've seen this behavior firsthand.) Spayed female cats are the most likely to bring gory gifts to their owners. But they have their reasons.

In the wild, cat mothers teach their young how to eat their food by bringing home dead or injured prey. Domestic cats are no different. But in this modern age of spayed domestic cats, many female felines have no young to whom they need to pass on their hunting wisdom.

So, if cats love their owners, they bring to him some kinds of "gifts" such as mice and birds.This is a way for the cats to say "thank you" for the care that him gives to them. Also, squerls do not give "gifts". They are simply hiding supplies for the winter near human residents.


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