Squirrels can be a problem for those who love to watch the birds play and eat in their backyards. Determined, pesky creatures that will risk their lives for food, squirrels can break or damage feeders and consume all the seed, leaving nothing for the birds. In addition, squirrels are predators that may eat the eggs or young of nesting birds, so they can be dangerous to bird life as well as a nuisance.
Rather than resorting to drastic measures such as poisoning the seed (which can kill the birds) or attempting to drive away squirrels with larger predators (such as cats) that also scare off the birds or worse yet, kill them, just follow the steps below.
How To Squirrel Proof a Bird Feeder
- Choose a Good Location. Squirrels are clever, so backyard birders need to be smart when choosing where to mount their feeders. Since squirrels can leap as far as 15 feet, position your feeder so it is not close to trees, roof tops (made accessible by trees), large bushes, fences, boulders, lawn furniture or anything else from which squirrels can leap. A good idea is to mount a feeder on a tall metal pole.
- Keep the Surrounding Area Clean. Spilled seed will quickly attract squirrels to feeders. If they discover seeds on the ground, you can be sure these clever creatures are going to try everything possible to attempt to get to the seed in the feeder.
- Install Baffles. Placing metal or plastic baffles below and above bird feeders can keep squirrels off balance, making bird feeders inaccessible to them. Wavy or sloped baffles that swirl or tilt are best, although some people claim that after awhile squirrels learn how to navigate baffles to get into the seed.
- Store Unused Seed Indoors. It is never a good idea to store bags of bird seed outside. Keep extra seed indoors, in a shed or the garage. Make sure to store it a strong plastic container that cannot be chewed through easily by mice.
- Pepper the Seed. Mixing a spice like cayenne pepper into bird seed can deter squirrels and other varmints from gorging on seed, but may not be an issue for birds. Although some ornithologists warn against this practice stating that we don’t know the long term effects of spicy seed on birds, here are some tips if you choose not to try it anyway. Wear gloves and avoid getting pepper dust into eyes, open cuts or breathing it into the lungs. If the seed gets wet, the spice must be reapplied. Wet seed should be removed from feeders immediately to prevent the growth of mold. (Bird seed that has been dusted with cayenne pepper can be purchased in some stores.)
- Feeder Type. Ground feeders or feeders that are hung from trees are easy for squirrels and other predators to access. If squirrels have destroyed a wooden bird feeder in the past, try one that is made from metal. Also, consider feeders that that are set off by weight with barriers that limit squirrels’ ability to get to the seed.
- Try a Window Bird Feeder. Since squirrels can’t scale glass to get into it, this can be a good alternative. These feeders mount to windows with suction cups, so those indoors can watch the birds up close. As with other feeders, window mounted bird feeders should be placed on windows that are not close to trees, patio furniture or other objects that squirrels can climb up on and leap from. Plate glass windows work best because there are no panes across which squirrels can scurry to get into the feeder. Although these feeders mount to windows, surprisingly, they are not usually prone to window strikes since birds will stop short of the window due to the availability of seed.
- Add Spinners to Feeders Hung from Wire. Sometimes the best option is to hang a feeder from a wire, but since a squirrel can scurry across the wire to get access to the feeder, make sure to string spinning objects on each side of the bird feeder. Ideas for spinners include, but aren’t limited to short lengths of PVC pipe, hose, spools, plastic water bottles or anything else that you can thread through the wire that will prevent squirrels from scurrying easily across it.
- Cage the Feeder. Enclosing the feeder in a wire cage that allows birds to eat, but prevents squirrels from stealing seed can be a good solution. Purchase a feeder with a built-in cage or make your own with mesh purchased from your local hardware store. In the photo to the right, you can see that the squirrel managed to squeeze through the openings in the cage to get to the feeder.
Of course, any “how to squirrel-proof a feeder” list is incomplete if it neglects to point out that squirrels are clever creatures and may find ways to get into feeders no matter what you try. In order to outwit them, you must be just as determined as they are. Try the tips above in combination and come up with your own until you find out what works with the particular squirrels in your locale.
If you’ve found something that seems to work, please feel free to contact us to add your tip to this article.