Despite their delightful antics having the squirrels eating up all of your birdseed can be frustrating. This is a guide about keeping the squirrels out of your bird feeder.
Many gardeners erect birdfeeders with the hopes of attracting and enjoying backyard birds. Before long, neighborhood squirrels discover them too, and move in to steal the seed. Keeping neighborhood squirrels out of your birdfeeder can seem like a losing battle. It doesn't have to be. All it takes is a little patience and some trial and error to see what works best.
To truly appreciate squirrels (and learn to live with them peacefully), it helps to know what drives their behavior-what makes squirrels do what they do. The squirrels you see raiding your birdfeeder are probably one or more of several common species of tree squirrels: Fox squirrels, Red squirrels, or Gray squirrels. These species are most active in morning and late afternoon. During mid day they usually retire to their nests or nap on nearby tree branches. Solitary by nature, tree squirrels don't hibernate in the winter, although they sometimes nest in small groups to stay warm. Here are a few interesting facts about squirrels:
Gardeners have found the following 3 tactics to be the most effective in discouraging squirrels from visiting birdfeeders. You may have to experiment with one or more before finding a solution that works for you.
Baffling them. If your birdfeeder hangs from a pole or is attached to a post, place a stove-pipe or pyramid-shaped baffle underneath the feeder to prevent squirrels from accessing the feeder from the ground. Purchase one, or make your own. To be effective, the bottom of the baffle needs to be at least 5 feet off the ground and 8 to 10 feet away from nearby objects. To prevent access from above, use a dome or umbrella-shaped baffle above your feeder. Make sure it's large enough to cover the feeder completely and that your feeder is least 8 to 10 feet away from buildings, branches and other objects the squirrels might climb.
Excluding them. Try enclosing your existing feeder in a wire mesh cage that has openings large enough for birds to get inside, but are small enough to exclude squirrels. Another option is to buy a "squirrel proof" feeder. Some feature weight activated trap doors that close off access to feeding holes whenever any animal as heavy as a squirrel steps on the perches. Others are stationary hoppers protected by an outer shell that spins when activated by a squirrels weight. You can expect to pay more for these types of feeders up front, but you'll make up for it quickly by buying less seed.
Changing seeds. Squirrels raiding birdfeeders favor nuts, sunflower seeds, and cracked corn. One way to eliminate their visits is to offer seeds that are less appealing. For example, safflower seed attracts cardinals, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and grosbeaks. Squirrels (and other feeders hogs like grackles and starlings) don't care for them. Nyjer seed (also called thistle seed) is a favorite of goldfinches, purple finches, pine siskins, and even mourning doves, but squirrels won't bother with it.
At times squirrels can seem like a nuisance, but like backyard birds, they are really just going about the business of survival. There are many strategies for keeping them out of your birdfeeder, but the following methods are NOT recommended as they are either considered unnecessarily harmful (for squirrels and birds) or they just plain don't work.
Many people find the antics of squirrels very amusing and actually enjoy feeding them. After all, watching squirrels clown around in an effort to secure food can be an interesting and entertaining way to learn about nature. One way to keep them distracted from your birdfeeders is to provide them with their own feeding station. From "picnic tables" that hold corn cobs to feeders that bounce up and down on cables, there are countless squirrel feeders designed with your amusement in mind.
We hang our bird feeder between two large trees. The heavy duty wire is about 18 to 20 feet long and high enough off the round so that most squirrels can't jump to it. It's a basket feeder and the lid flips off to fill it. In 5 years only one squirrel has managed to jump on to feed, and we're not too sure how this happened. However with all the snow we've had this season we did have to keep it cleared under the feeder, or else we'd have had a few more chowing down. We find there is always some seed on the ground, and they do eat suet so they are pretty well fed. Good luck....
The circular hardware shown is actually made to support tall plants growing upright. I got it free at a garage sale and my husband used small chains with eyelet hooks to hang in it two places below on our birdfeeder.
You may even use plastic ties if you haven't any chain. The beauty of it is to only attach it on opposite two sides so it tips if a critter tries to climb on it.
I haven't had an unwelcome visitor in the bird feeder since!
Oh I've tried the Vaseline and many other methods but most were unsuccessful. This has been great for over two years now!
If you have a feeder that is on a pole, measure from the ground to the bird-feeder at the top of the pole. Use 6 inch PVC pipe the same length and slip the bird-feeder pole inside before you pound it into the ground. Make sure that it fits snugly at the top just under the base of the feeder. No lubrication is necessary using this method. The animals cannot grip the large diameter of the pipe. I do feed the squirrels, but do not allow them access to my bird-feeder. You will have to make sure that they can not climb a nearby tree and hop over. This works for coons, as well. Do not use the smaller PVC because if it is small enough for the critters to wrap their paws around, they can climb it.
By Harlean from Arkansas from Hot Springs, AR
Thank you very much for your solution to squirrel issues! I've had as many as 32 of those little, sunflower stealing critters at once! They do not mind stealing suet, either. Bird-feeders unite! Happy birding and enjoy.
I built my sunflower feeder support mast from 1 1/2 inch Schedule 40 plastic pipe. I figured the plastic finish would be too slick and hard for squirrel claws to grab.
This guy solved the problem - he simply 'hugged' his way to the top.
I've no idea if he would have 'slid' down the 1/16 inch steel cable to the pan holding sunflower seeds because I think he noticed me taking the picture and fled the scene. Scrambled down the pole barely under control. So funny.
Awesome photo - I'm so amused by squirrels lately. They are so funny :)
Love your imaginative way of solving the squirrel-theft problem!
First we hang our feeders far out on the branches away from the trunk of the tree, so that leaping from trunk to feeder won't work. Next we use fishing line to hang our feeders with. It's so fine that they fall off when they are trying to climb down from the branch.
I have a couple of dozen squirrels in my yard. I am fine with that except they're tearing down my bird feeders and eating my bird seeds. Is there a trick I can use to keep them away from the bird feeders or repel them?
Hardiness Zone: 8a
By Donna from FL
Maybe not exactly a gardening question, but not quite a pets question either. I have been told that the best way to keep the squirrels out of my birdfeeders is to mix red pepper in with the seed. Mammals (squirrels) are affected by the pepper taste, birds are not. Any info? And yes I have "squirrel proof" feeders, baffles, poles, etc. and the squirrels are apparently smarter than every one of them.
Hardiness Zone: 8a
By Kathy from Seattle, WA
The red pepper burns their eyes so badly that they will actually scratch their eyes right out in order to stop the burning. Don't use any kind of pepper around any animals! Squirrels like the larger seeds, so use the seed mixtures with the smaller seeds, for instance, no sunflowers or pumpkin seeds.
Squirrels always outwit me, so, I have a feeding station for the little darlings, away from the bird feeders, for the most part they are content with that. They are basically lazy and if the don't have to work for food, all the better. I have several pot saucers on the ground with some nuts, but mostly generic honey nut Cherrios and stale bread in them, very seldom does one come to the bird feeders.
I hang my birdfeeders on a shepherd's pole. There are 3 squirrels that keep climbing on the pole sitting on the bird feeders and eating all the feed. I yelled at them, threw things at them, and still they climbed and ate.
I felt challenged by all the news I've read where squirrels defeated imaginative defenses invented to keep them from raiding bird feeders. So I put my construction experience to work.
Total bill for parts was about $25.
For the mast I bought schedule 40 1-1/2 inch diameter PVC pipe. Schedule 40 is one of the top quality grades of PVC - very hard and dense. Hard enough to prevent squirrel claws from gaining traction.
My purchase at Lowe's consisted of:
I used 1/16th inch steel cable and ferrules to make loops for easy disconnections for when it's zero degrees outside when pan has to be cleaned and such other nasty winter conditions. I ran the cable through two screw-eyes to distance the pan from the mast. I used cheap carabiners from Walmart to connect the parts.
The project was built with only basic tools - none expensive or exotic, believe me.
Only one (that I know of) extremely smart squirrel ever made it all the way to the top -- and he never got close to the seed pan. I know he didn't use his claws to get up there -- I like to think he "hugged" his way up -- like I used to 'shinny' up trees. He looked a bit foolish and ungraceful when I chased him away. After all, I had another feeder nearby just for squirrels. But they like sunflower seeds just as much as the birds do.
I am fortunate to have a handy timber retaining wall to anchor the mast to. The seed pan ended up suspended less than 8 feet from my living room window so I got lots of picture opportunities - not to mention all the pleasure watching the different breeds feeding so close to my window.
By Chuck from Canton, OH
I like this... (No LIKE button to press - LOL)
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How can I keep the squirrels off the bird feeder? I have oiled the pole, put up a baffle, and let the dog chase them off. Nothing works, we are spending a fortune in bird food. I don't want to harm them in any way.
We put PVC pipe around the poles on our feeders. It must be big enough around so they squirrels cannot grasp it. It has worked for us but a friend has had her squirrels just ignore the pipes and run up as if not there. We also put velcro tape around the poles - using just the stick side out portion of the two pieces. Glued it around the pole in a spiral shape with outdoor glue. Haven't had a squirrel run up a pole since. Good luck!
My brother hung part of a fan cover upside down on the pole with a 5 gal plastic pail under it to keep them out.
We have now exchanged the plastic pail for a metal one as these rodents have chewed the plastic one almost to the fan cover! Good luck.
What about a couple of tiny bird feeders instead? With nothing the squirrels can grab onto, or will support them.
Another idea is to have a very high, very slender pole (metal or make one of wood) with a hook to hang the bird feeder on. Thin and strong enough to hold up the feeder, but not a squirrel.
I have also heard of someone who made a lever, either part of or near the bird house (not sure of this design), a basic 2x4 or slat or anything long and slender - I'd say make it slippery) with a string and knot, so that the squirrel will topple the 2x4 or simply make them fall down because of their heavier weight, whereas the birds can simply light on this support. This idea requires some experimenting but you get the idea.
We cannot keep this critter out of the bird feeders no matter what we do. My husband has tried everything, but alas the little squirrel outwits him every time.