Fox squirrels are known for their birdseed raiding abilities!
Backyard bird feeding is an enjoyable hobby and pastime supporting bird conservation efforts. Many birdwatchers experience less enjoyment when their pastime is invaded by squirrels. Is it a serious issue? The answer depends upon your location and tolerance. Are there easy solutions? Absolutely.
If you see a squirrel-resistant product in the article below that intrigues you, click on its photo or a nearby golden link to learn more about it!
Why do some bird lovers view squirrels as a nuisance?
Squirrels are found across North America. Almost every park, neighborhood, and backyard with a tree has experienced a squirrel bounding across branches or grass with its fluffy tail raised in the air. While most lovers of animals enjoy seeing the antics of these bouncy mammals, those with backyard bird feeders can experience a newfound frustration when sighting a squirrel rummaging through their sunflower seed.
Why do birders, bird feeders, and bird lovers lack excitement for these bushy-tailed visitors? Despite their cuteness, squirrels are known to cause damage to feeders, trees, homes, yards, gardens, and storage containers for birdseed. They can carry dangerous diseases to humans, pets, and occasionally, even birds. These buck-toothed rodents can also cause damage to bank accounts by clearing feeders out multiple times daily. With a large reproductive capacity, a pair of squirrels can become a double-digit herd of tree crawlers in a few years. The possibility of ten to twenty squirrel mouths raises the concern that a bag of birdseed lasts for a few days instead of a few weeks. These factors keep backyard birders awake at night, combing through ideas to keep squirrels far from their feeders.
Not everyone is haunted by the aforementioned squirrel problems. Squirrel lovers, proceed to the bottom of this article to find ways to give squirrels a hearty buffet. Everyone else? Read on through the following sections to learn some tried and true tips to keep the squirrel horde at bay.
The poles are in; the squirrels are out
Squirrels can climb. They can jump. They can seemingly fall from the sky onto bird feeders. It is almost as if they have bird feeding homing technology. While the latter capabilities are greatly exaggerated, squirrels have great physical attributes allowing them to access feeders in seemingly impossible locations. Feeders attached to trees, wooden posts, windows, and on the sides of structures are a mere hop, skip, climb, and a jump for squirrels. What can a person do?
Let’s go to the poles.
Seriously, a properly placed feeder pole can elevate bird buffets out of the jumping reach of most squirrels. A powder-coated pole's narrow, slick nature adds a challenge for these skilled climbers. These poles are also known as shepherd’s hooks thanks to their crooks and nooks for hanging your favorite feeders. Previously, there were even recommendations to grease feeders. This practice is no longer being recommended regularly, as the grease can severely damage squirrels and birds. Since grease is no longer popular (and not just the John Travolta “Grease”), how else might squirrels be further deterred from their never ending quest to raid feeders? You have to baffle them. Baffle ‘em real good.
Baffled? So is the squirrel
If you are attempting to confuse the squirrel, you are using the wrong kind of baffle. And confusing the squirrel will only work so long. The baffle truly needed is a permanent fixture. A bastion of prevention. A barrier to the banquet. A symbol of squirrel-free solace. (Okay, that is enough hyperbole of the vernacular.) In backyard bird feeding, a baffle is a metal or plastic collar, cover, or shield that limits a squirrel, raccoon, or other climbing animal’s ability to access a bird feeder. Some baffles protect the top of a feeder from rodents accessing food from the top down. They also provide cover from precipitation and offer shade to feathered friends.
Perplexed? Keep reading. (Perplexed is a synonym for baffled. The author is enjoying this too much.)
Other baffles can work with the powerful poles mentioned above to create a super-feeding station that keeps birds fed and squirrels grounded. These metal baffles attach to poles using a collar. The baffle sits freely on the collar, offering an unstable climbing surface that keeps those light-fingered critters planted on the dirt. The domed baffles are this author’s favorite kind of baffling accessory, and Bird’s Choice offers poles and baffle sets with matching colors! The domes add an additional layer of protection, as on occasion, a particularly wirey raccoon might find a way to grip the lip of a flat surfaced baffle, but this is a rare occurrence. Any baffle affixed to a feeder pole will allow feeders to host the true stars of your backyard show, the birds.
Baffles come in various sizes, shapes, colors, and methods of attachment. However, the one thing they all have in common is their ability to keep squirrels baffled. (See what I did there? Always finish on the joke!)
Squirrels can’t stand the heat, so keep ‘em out of the bird kitchen
Cayenne, jalapeño, and habanero peppers are just a few foods that haunt the dreams of squirrels. Why? Capsaicin. Capsaicin is the chemical compound that gives peppers their kick! While birds feel no effect from the heat, squirrels, like most mammals, cannot avoid the spice. How does this help? Birds Choice has a variety of feeds treated with red pepper, giving the capsaicin kick needed to leave a bad taste in the mouths of squirrels. Birdseed and suet can both be infused with capsaicin, packing a punch that will be undetectable by birds! It is truly a win-win situation. Squirrels have a negative experience, discouraging return visits, and birds can fully take advantage of the rodent-free buffet space. Occasionally, pepper-treated seeds can lose their spice. Keeping a bottle of pepper oil or dry cayenne pepper seasoning can allow the seeds to be re-treated when necessary. This is especially important after precipitation washes away the added seasoning.
Pepper does not cause injury to squirrels, but it does create the kind of negative experience that will prevent a return trip to your backyard anytime soon. Squirrels will quickly learn they cannot stand the heat and must stay out of your bird kitchen!
Squirrels! In! Spaaace!
If you skipped ahead to this section, then you really love squirrels! You do not want to keep squirrels out of your feeders or yard, and we commend you for your squirrel empathy. To help fuel this passion for feeding squirrels AND birds, we offer a final suggestion: give squirrels their own space to feed at will. Create a ‘table’ where squirrels can easily access favorite foods like corn and peanuts. With ample food and space, squirrels will have less need to invade bird feeders. There is still the concern of the squirrels multiplying their population quickly. Still, the adults usually keep too many young squirrels from claiming their territories. Birds Choice has squirrel-only feeders that feed squirrels without allowing birds to help themselves. Squirrels will have their own feeders, and birds can keep their own.
Give birds and squirrels separate spaces, and they will play nice. If squirrels lack space, they may soon take over from your favorite birds.
Squirrels are not egg-cellent around birds
Believe it or not, squirrels are a true predator for birds. Adult birds that fly around and sing? No. But for baby birds, squirrels are a threat. This is because squirrels are known as avid predators of nests, eggs, and nestlings. While their diet usually consists of seeds and other plant matter, squirrels will snack on young birds when the opportunity arises. Across most natural ranges of squirrels and birds, this is a minor issue. Unfortunately, fox squirrels and gray squirrels have been introduced to regions where they are not native, introducing a new predator to birds without adequate time to adapt. Some breeding birds have faced new challenges where these introductions have happened, only further harming their struggling populations.
While squirrels are not likely to be the sole reason a species becomes threatened or extinct, providing an artificial squirrel population boost might be why some backyard bird enthusiasts see fewer nesting birds.
To everything: squirrel, squirrel, squirrel
There are a large number of squirrel species in North America. Naming and describing all of them would be quite the task. Instead, here are the three most common squirrels to be found visiting a backyard feeder in North America:
- Eastern fox squirrel - This is the most common squirrel throughout the eastern United States and into the Great Plains. Named the fox squirrel due to its red fox-ish colored pelage (fur), this is likely the culprit for most feeding faux pas. The eastern fox squirrel was introduced to many Intermountain West and Pacific state areas. It has grown into a somewhat invasive species in these locales.
- Eastern gray squirrel - This is likely the second most common squirrel in the eastern United States. While only slightly less commonly seen, it is still a visitor in areas where people are abundant. It is named due to its gray pelage or fur!
- Red squirrel - This is the most widespread squirrel across North America. It ranges from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic Coast and as far north as Alaska and New Foundland. It is not a shy squirrel but generally is only found in the proper habitat where food sources are plentiful. They are one of the most vocal squirrels, often confused for birds! They are identified from fox squirrels by their smaller size, black strip on their sides, white eye ring, or more erratic movements.
Most species of squirrels are wary of humans. In other species, squirrel and human conflict have become regular issues. It is never wise to feed any of the squirrels above by hand nor provide them food in a public park. These squirrels can become too bold and aggressive towards unsuspecting people, creating conflicts that require squirrels to be euthanized. Leave these wild squirrels wild, and only feed them by allowing them a seat at your bird feeding table.
Not such a tough nut to crack
Squirrels are not your enemy. But if you want fewer squirrels visiting your bird feeders, then hopefully, this list of ideas will be helpful to your endeavor. These ideas are all non-lethal, humane methods of keeping squirrels at wing’s reach. Use them judiciously. Most importantly, remember to enjoy all creatures that partake in your backyard food offerings.