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How do I keep squirrels out of my bird feeder?

Squirrels love delicious birdseed and will take whatever measures they can to ensure they get some of those tasty bites. This ambitious little bandit is can also cause a host of more problems. They have been known to chew and claw through both wooden and plastic feeders, even destroying them to the point they cannot be used again. Also, squirrels have been known to eat tiny bird eggs and kill nestling, which can make a squirrel-friendly yard less attractive to nesting birds. The ongoing question has been “How do I keep squirrels out of my bird feeder?”

There are many ways to approach this problem, and for the best results, try a few different methods which may suit your situation. Here are some ideas to combat squirrel domination.

  • Location: Squirrels can jump distances of at least 8 feet or greater, so any feeder should be placed well away from trees, wires, and other launching points to make it more difficult for squirrels to get on the feeder. Ideally, mount birdfeeders on a smooth metal pole at least six feet high, and prune any branches or bushes within a 12 foot radius.
  • Cages: Place a wire cage around a birdfeeder that squirrels will not fit through but with openings that will not restrict smaller birds from feeding. This is also useful for preventing larger birds, such as starlings and pigeons, from accessing the feeder. Some feeders come equipped with these cages, or you can easily add mesh to an existing feeder. People have gotten truly creative with caging ideas to keep squirrels out, such as using chicken wire to hover over a bird feeder and tomato plants.
  • Baffles: Baffles are the most common device used for keeping squirrels away. Most people will use old 1 liter plastic bottles and drill holes in the bottom; then add smooth plastic or metal baffles above and below birdfeeders. The baffles should be at least 15 inches wide and sloped to prevent squirrels from reaching around them. Many of these squirrel baffles are designed to twirl or tilt if a squirrel climbs onto them, keeping the animal off balance and unable to access the feeder.
  • Cleanliness: Keep the area around the feeder clean removing any spilled seed from the ground that could look like a meal to squirrels. As well, the birds do not eat old or rotting seed.
  • Spinners: Hang a feeder from a thin horizontal wire strung with spinners to keep squirrels from climbing across the wire. Spinners may be a line of thread spools, short lengths of pipe or hose, or empty plastic soda bottles strung along the wire that will spin and keep squirrels from accessing the feeder.
  • Feeder Style: If you need to replace feeders that squirrels have destroyed, opt for specially designed birdfeeders with doors that will be trigged by a squirrel’s weight to close and restrict access to seed. Try to choose a metal feeder when possible. There are some really great new designs in feeder styles on the market today with triggering mechanisms.
  • Seed: While squirrels will easily try out most types of birdseed, they are less attracted to nyger thistle and safflower seed. For some reason, they seem to have an aversion to these two bird specialties.
  • Spicy Seed: Squirrels are sensitive to perceived heat of peppers, but birds are not. Add a little cayenne pepper in the birdseed to deter squirrels. Some retailers have pre-treated seed available, but it should be treated just as cautiously.
  • Even when using several techniques, it isn’t always possible to squirrel-proof a birdfeeder. If the squirrels refuse to leave, ceasing all backyard bird feeding for several days or weeks may encourage the squirrels to move on, but it is equally likely that as soon as feeders are back out.

Some backyard birders, instead of eliminating squirrels, make friends with them by creating a platform squirrel feeding station away from the birdfeeders. Squirrels will stay within their own territory with tempting treats such as nuts, corn and berries. This also lets backyard nature enthusiasts enjoy the intelligence and antics of squirrels without watching their birdseed and their bird feeder waste away.

In the end, squirrels are just as much a part of backyard wildlife as birds. While it is possible to squirrel-proof a birdfeeder to deter these visitors from frequent meals, any backyard bird feeder is going to get the attention of an occasional squirrel from time to time.