They may be one of Britain’s best loved mammals, but how to keep squirrels out of your bird feeder is a problem that plagues many a garden birdwatcher.
According to Gemma Hogg from the RSPB: “Squirrels can be a real problem when feeding your garden birds. They can damage the best bird feeders by chewing through plastic rapidly, rendering them useless. Squirrels also have a large appetite, and will make short work of the bird food you put out, if they can get to it.” Luckily, there are plenty of ways to stop them getting their paws on the tasty treats you leave out without doing them any harm, including investing in one of the best squirrel proof bird feeders, and the following tips will certainly help.
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Make the food unappealing
The main problem is that the feed that attracts most birds, such as black oil sunflower seeds, nuts and suet, also attracts squirrels. These bushy-tailed mammals love to eat peanuts, sunflower seeds, fruit and corn, so aim for bird feed that doesn’t rely on these ingredients. Birds like cardinals and chickadees enjoy eating safflower seed, goldfinches will feed on nyjer seed and white millet will attract doves and sparrows, but squirrels are not fans of these varieties.
You can also repel them by buying capsaicin-coated bird seed or adding cayenne pepper or chilli powder to your feed mix. While birds will happily eat hot peppers squirrels cannot stand food that burns their mouths.
If you don’t have the heart to let the squirrels go hungry while the birds enjoy their food, why not feed them separately? Place a tray of peanuts, sunflower seeds or corn in a different area of the garden to the bird feeder and make it easy to access for your rodent friends. But be warned, you may be attracting even more unwanted visitors such as raccoons!
Be clever about food placement
Squirrels are not only amazing climbers, but they can jump over five feet vertically and seven feet horizontally. So it’s important to make sure your bird feeders are placed at least 10 feet away from anything that they might be able to use to jump off, whether that’s a tree branch, a roof tile or garden furniture.
If you’ve got a small garden and this is too difficult, try creating hurdles to outsmart the clever critters. If your feeders are hung on a wire between two trees, thread a few cones, old sewing spools, discs or plastic bottles to the wire so that when the squirrel attempts to climb across the objects will spin and the squirrel will fall off.
Finally, make sure the area around your bird feeder is kept tidy. It’s not the bird feeder that’s likely to catch the squirrel’s attention, but the food that the birds have dropped on the ground, so try to clean up after them to avoid attracting the wrong visitors.
As a last resort, stop putting food out for a while and see if they lose interest in your garden.
Think about your feeder
Your main aim is to prevent the squirrel from reaching the food so the best option is to buy a squirrel-proof feeder pole. However, if you already have a feeder pole and don’t want to buy a new one, there are different ways to squirrel-proof it or at least make it more difficult for them to access the bird feed. You can either buy a baffle (a cone-shaped contraption that stops squirrels climbing up poles or jumping on to them from a tree) or you can make your own device without the expense. Hang an upcycled inverted bowl or biscuit tin above the bird food table to stop the squirrel jumping on to the food. Just make sure the contraption is higher than five feet or the squirrel might be able to jump up to the table. If you’ve got a slinky that your child doesn’t use anymore, fit it to the pole to make it difficult to climb up.
There is also the aforementioned option of squirrel-proof feeders if you have a small garden and no room to place the feeder out of reach. Caged feeders allow smaller birds to access the food while keeping squirrels out with metal wire. Again, if you’d rather not buy, you can create your own using chicken wire mesh. There are also feeders with spring loaded and spinning perches, which will carry the weight of a bird, but knock a squirrel off (try the RSPB’s Squirrel Buster Mini seed feeder).
Please don’t use any form of poison or glue on your feeder poles and try to avoid grease as this could be harmful to the squirrels. Just remember, that although they can be garden troublemakers, squirrels also play an important part in forest regeneration and, like the birds in your garden, they’re just trying to survive.