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.
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From my kitchen window, I enjoy watching the birds at our bird feeders. However I can't keep a lot of food in the feeders because of squirrels. In the cold months, early in the morning, I'll put out just enough seed to last through the day.
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.
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.
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 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.
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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
We've also had this problem, even though we also put out corn cobs for squirrel food. We recycle gallon milk jugs as bird feeders, and hubby was cutting a fair-sized hole in the side for access. Obviously, this was big enough for the squirrel to help his greedy self. Bigger and nastier birds like crows and blue jays were following Mr Squirrel's bad example.
Last time hubby made a new feeder, he only cut a hole big enough for a sparrow or wren to fit through. This seems to have solved, or at least minimized, the problem. We've also noticed those smaller birds fighting the larger creatures for their share of the food, it's awesome, especially when the smaller birds win!
Try squirrel b gone feeders. I have 4 of them, they work. I work in a bird feed store and we get this issue from everyone. I also, have a feeding area just for my squirrels, farthest away from the bird feeders. It works too, and I know when theirs is empty. They try the other feeders.
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.
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!
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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.