Feeding birds in your backyard can be a rewarding hobby, but it can also be a frustrating one if you don’t know how to squirrel-proof a birdfeeder to avoid losing a lot of seed to furry diners. From buying specialized feeders to easy, quick tricks, it is possible to discourage squirrels from taking advantage of your bird buffet.
Squirrels and Birdfeeders
The best types of birdseed, including black oil sunflower seeds, nuts and suet, are just as attractive to squirrels as they are to birds. At first, it may seem like a squirrel is a welcome addition to backyard wildlife, and for many birders that is the case. Other birders, however, may have more difficulties with squirrels and their voracious appetites. Unlike birds that will usually share feeders with other visitors, squirrels tend to scare or chase away birds and will stay at the same feeder until it is empty, consuming large quantities of seeds quickly without the birds getting a bite.
In their efforts to get to delicious birdseed, squirrels will chew and claw through both wooden and plastic feeders, possibly damaging them so they can no longer be used. It is important to remember as well that squirrels can also be predators and have been known to eat eggs and kill nestlings, which makes a squirrel-friendly yard one that is less attractive to nesting birds.
Tips to Squirrel-Proof a Birdfeeder
There are several ways to make a birdfeeder less accessible to squirrels without restricting its appeal to the birds. For the best results, try several methods to squirrel-proof a birdfeeder.
- Location: Squirrels can jump distances of 10 feet or greater, so place feeders well away from trees, wires, porches and other launching points to make it more difficult for squirrels to get on the feeder. Ideally, mount birdfeeders on a smooth metal pole at least six feet high, and prune any branches or bushes within a 12 foot radius.
- Cages: Place a wire cage around a birdfeeder that squirrels will not fit through but with openings that will not restrict smaller birds from feeding. This is also useful for preventing larger birds, such as starlings and pigeons, from accessing the feeder. Some feeders come equipped with these cages, or you can easily add mesh to an existing feeder.
- Baffles: Add smooth plastic or metal baffles above and below birdfeeders. The baffles should be at least 15 inches wide and sloped to prevent squirrels from reaching around them. Many of these squirrel baffles are designed to twirl or tilt if a squirrel climbs onto them, keeping the animal off balance and unable to access the feeder.
- Cleanliness: Keep the area around the feeder clean and remove debris and spilled seed from the ground that could be attracting squirrels. This also ensures the birds do not eat old or rotting seed that could be unhealthy.
- Spinners: Hang a feeder from a thin horizontal wire strung with spinners to keep squirrels from climbing across the wire. Spinners may be a line of thread spools, short lengths of pipe or hose, or empty plastic soda bottles strung along the wire that will spin and keep squirrels from accessing the feeder.
- Feeder Style: If you need to replace feeders that squirrels have destroyed, opt for specially designed birdfeeders with doors that will be trigged by a squirrel’s weight to close and restrict access to seed. Alternatively, choose metal feeders that squirrels will be less able to chew through.
- Seed: While squirrels will readily sample most types of birdseed, they are less attracted to nyger and safflower seed. By using these seeds exclusively, you close the squirrel snack bar without eliminating feeding the birds.
- Spicy Seed: Mammals, including squirrels, are sensitive to the perceived heat of peppers, but birds are not. Adding cayenne pepper or similar spices to birdseed can deter squirrels, but it can wash off and must be used consistently for the best effects. When handling pepper, be sure wear gloves and avoid breathing in the dust. Some retailers have pre-treated seed available, but it should be treated just as cautiously.
- Traps: If squirrels are a strong nuisance at your backyard feeders, contact local wildlife control authorities about the possibility of using humane traps to remove squirrels from the area. Local regulations on this will vary.
What You Shouldn’t Do
While it can be frustrating to try several squirrel-proofing methods only to see seed continually disappear, there are certain techniques that should never be used to control squirrels.
- Hunting: Shooting squirrels is illegal in many areas and it is too likely to also injure birds when aiming for squirrels.
- Poison: Poisoning seed or setting poisoned bait for squirrels can result in dead birds that sample the bait as well as other affected wildlife.
- Cats: Do not release a cat to hunt squirrels, as the cats are just as much a threat to backyard birds as they are to other feeder guests.
- Grease: Adding grease to a pole or hanger to make it too slippery to the squirrels is not only largely ineffective, but it can coat the animals’ fur as well as birds’ feathers and cause illness and vulnerability to predators.
When All Else Fails
Even when using several techniques, it isn’t always possible to squirrel-proof a birdfeeder. If the squirrels refuse to leave, ceasing all backyard birdfeeding for several days or weeks may encourage the squirrels to move on, but it is equally likely that as soon as new feeders are put out the squirrels will return.
Some backyard birders, instead of eliminating squirrels, compromise with them by creating a squirrel feeding station away from the birdfeeders. Easier to access feeders with tempting treats such as nuts, corn and berries may attract squirrels’ attention and let the birds enjoy their feeders without competition. This also lets backyard nature enthusiasts enjoy the intelligence and antics of squirrels without the frustration of seeing expensive birdseed eaten so quickly.
In the end, squirrels are just as much a part of backyard wildlife as birds. While it is possible to squirrel-proof a birdfeeder and otherwise deter these visitors from frequent meals, an occasional squirrel visit is to be expected at any backyard birdfeeder.
Squirrel Photo © David Friel