For those of us who love to feed birds, squirrels are often Enemy #1. Moreover, everyone seems to have an opinion about how to deter squirrels from our feeders (or how it is impossible to do so). As pesky, intelligent, and athletic as they are, one would think that humans would still be able to outsmart them safely, humanely, and effectively.
Or one would think.
Ironically, it isn’t the squirrels that make it difficult, but the human factor that does. You see, we all have different opinions about squirrels as critters, have different desires regarding bird feeding, have different budget allowances, different requirements for placing feeders in our yards, and have houses built on land with different ecological conditions (sloped, flat, wooded, open, etc.).
That’s why there is no one-size-fits-all method of thwarting squirrels, and no one best answer either. What works for one person may not be practical for someone else, and what doesn’t work for another person may be just the method someone else was looking for.
In this article, I will talk about the five primary ways to thwart squirrels, so we can minimize squirrel havoc at our feeders. These are listed in no particular order, and you may need to use multiple methods in your own yard to truly prevent those furry tailed critters from munching too much seed.
Method #1: Use a mechanical squirrel proof feeder design.
There are many feeders that tout themselves as being squirrel proof, but very few actually are. Most are highly squirrel resistant, but to be truly squirrel proof, the feeder needs to be long (to prevent toe hanging from the top) and have some type of perch that will not allow squirrels a resting place. These are usually mechanical in some way. Some spin squirrels off the perch, others have perches that collapse under the weight of a squirrel, or the entire feeder functions to close off the feeding ports. The more expensive ones really do work. Cheap is not an option with squirrel proof feeders.
Method #2: Surround your feeder with a physical barrier.
Feeders in this category are usually surrounded with a cage as a barrier. The holes in the cage should be large enough to let feeder birds in, but small enough to exclude squirrels. One and one-half inch sized holes are usually a good compromise. Very small squirrels may be able to enter this type of cage, but the most common Grey Squirrel will be too large to fit through. The primary advantage of this feeder is they do exclude squirrels. The disadvantage is that food may still be accessible if they learn to rock the feeder to pour some on the ground.
Method #3: Use a baffle on a pole or a dome from top, or both.
If you prefer to use pole systems, then right sized pole baffles at the right height will become your new best friends. This physical barrier method works as long as the baffle is large enough and high enough off the ground. Many people put baffles too low, which only creates a secondary launching point for squirrels to your feeders. The top of the baffle should be at least four feet off the ground. If you have trees or buildings within 10 feet of your feeders, baffles from the bottom will be useless, because squirrels will just launch themselves to your feeders from the trees instead.
Those of you who have decks in the tree tops also can’t baffle the squirrels from below, but you can baffle them from the top with a dome. Just like a baffle, the dome needs to be large so that it prevents toe hanging by squirrels. Also, anything that makes your pole extension more difficult to walk on will also help as a deterrent such as Slinkys or plastic tubing around the extension. The one downside to this method is that it is Slinkys and other devices may wear out over time needing occasional replacement.
Method #4: Offer safflower seed.
Safflower seed is a type of seed that squirrels tend not to like. They prefer nuts and sunflower seeds. Unfortunately, safflower has a hard shell, so small birds have difficulty breaking into safflower seeds. The best way to use safflower is to use it exclusively as your general bird seed, then supplement with other types of feeders such as Nyjer (for finches), suet (for woodpeckers), bluebird pudding (for Bluebirds), and millet (for ground feeders). This will satisfy a wide variety of birds (including the smaller ones) while still deterring squirrels from your primary feeding station.
Method #5: Add some heat.
All mammals can taste hot pepper juice, but birds cannot. Thus, if you mix a little hot pepper sauce in with your bird seed, squirrels will go elsewhere. Do not use dry crushed red pepper, because that can be inadvertently inhaled by both mammals and birds and cause breathing issues. The best product to use is Cole’s Flaming Squirrel Seed Sauce. It is an oil based liquid with hot pepper flavoring mixed in. Because it is an oil solution, the hot pepper flavor will not wash off in wet weather. If you follow the instructions on the label, the squirrels will choose to dine at your neighbors instead.
Well, these are the five primary methods for deterring squirrels. As I noted above, you may need to use more than one method in your yard, but it is possible to prevent squirrels from feasting at your feeders. The key is realizing that there is no one “best” method, but to make sure you use the method that is best suited to your yard and your feeder system.