Eric is an amateur birder and photographer who is amazed by the natural world just about every day.
Squirrel vs Bird Feeder
If you live where squirrels live you know what happens when you put out a bird feeder. Before you know it your birdseed is gone, and so are the birds. You then might find yourself uttering a few words you hope your neighbors don’t hear.
If you are a backyard birder this goes with the job description. For me, the culprit is the eastern grey squirrel, but depending on where you live you might have a different adversary. Regardless, the same rules of engagement apply.
The eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) inhabits the eastern and central parts of the United States as well as lower-central and eastern Canada. This little critter can be an adorable member of your backyard menagerie and a welcome visitor.
On the other hand, you may find yourself throwing a rake at it.
They are full of spunk and personality, and they sure aren’t afraid of you. Like most woodland rodents they are rambunctious creatures who will get into just about anything you have out in your yard, including and especially your bird feeder.
Squirrels can be remarkably bold, and in urban situations will come straight up to humans, expecting something to eat. They are fun to watch, but can sometimes be overwhelming for property owners.
In this article, we’ll look at some ways to prevent these crazy critters from running amok in your backyard and trashing your bird feeder. As a backyard birder myself I’ve gone many rounds with the eastern gray squirrel. Here are a few things I’ve learned and tried.
Squirrel Facts and Behaviors
Understanding their behavior might make it a little easier to see why squirrels do what they do. Even though you might not believe it at times, they do not exist solely to drive you crazy. Like all animals, they are just trying to survive.
A few things to consider before taking drastic measures in dealing with your little problem:
- This is a forest-dwelling creature that has benefited tremendously from human habitation. In other words, the presence of people like me and you have altered their natural habits and activities.
- Natural diet items include nuts, seeds, and berries. A rich source of calories such as a bird feeder is just as valuable to this forest critter as it is to the birds. It doesn't realize it isn't wanted!
- Unlike some small mammals in northern climates, the gray squirrel does not hibernate during the winter. This means they are available to assault your bird feeder all winter long!
- They horde food in small caches throughout their territory, so they may dig it up later when needed. This explains why they are so relentless in stealing food from your feeder. They may hide food in up to a thousand places and are quite remarkable in their ability to recall and locate their treasures.
- Gray Squirrels can live for over a decade and they breed two times per year, once in summer and once in late winter. By the time babies are a year old, they’re ready to have babies of their own. They can have six or eight in each litter, so it’s easy to see how populations get out of control in some areas.
Best Ways to Squirrel-Proof a Bird Feeder
I hope harming animals isn't on your agenda. That's not the point of this article, nor is it something I would ever support. However, when it comes to your bird feeder this backyard menace has to be stopped or at least slowed.
If you've transformed your yard into a backyard bird habitat you probably realize squirrels are enjoying the place as much as the birds. One of the main complaints is the deft way they manage to steal food from feeders.
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When a squirrel hits a bird feeder it not only takes its fill of food, but it always seems to trash the place, sending food to the ground and sometimes knocking over the feeder itself. They are most attracted to sunflower seeds, nuts, and suet, but really if any kind of birdseed is out there they will probably come after it.
Good birdseed isn't cheap, and these antics get old pretty fast.
If you have dealt with these irritating rodents for any amount of time you probably realize how clever they are. They're sneaky critters with excellent problem-solving skills and tenacious attitudes. Is there really any way to beat them?
Here are a few of the best squirrel-proof bird feeder ideas you can try in order to combat this furry little bandit. By the way, many of these same methods also work well for dealing with chipmunks.
One easy way to challenge these sneaky rodents is to install a squirrel baffle above your bird feeder. These are cheap, circular plastic discs that stand in a critter's way when it wants to get to your feeder.
The animal must put its weight on the disc to get past it, and when it does the disc tips to one side, sending the invader to the ground.
In the right situation, this is a cheap and easy way to keep forest rodents off your feeder. But it does have some drawbacks. For one thing, you need to make sure that the path from above is the only way they can access your feeder. It’s pretty disheartening to install one of these only to realize squirrels can easily jump onto your feeder from below, or from another angle.
Secondly, sometimes these types of baffles seem to serve only as a type of IQ test for squirrels. Many will be deterred, but occasionally one will figure out a way around it, and it will probably be some way you didn’t even imagine.
Another method is to mount a bird feeder on a pole away from trees that might provide easy access from above, and then install a squirrel baffle on the pole. This type of baffle presents an obstacle that prevents critters from climbing up the pole.
It’s a pretty good system, but like the other baffle, it does have drawbacks.
For a pole baffle to be truly effective the pole needs to be installed well away from any low tree branches or structures where a squirrel can reach it from above.
They have even been known to airdrop from a branch onto a feeder. Especially when it comes to the eastern gray squirrel, truly it seems like wherever there is a will, there is certainly a way.
Installing a pole in the middle of a field isn’t the answer either. Songbirds need cover to feel comfortable at a feeder. Exposing them in an open field leaves them vulnerable to aerial predators like hawks. So, ideally, you’ll want to mount your pole feeder, with baffle, under a tree with branches high enough that no critter would be bonkers enough to try to jump from.
Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeders
When it comes to outsmarting these tenacious little rodents, a squirrel-proof bird feeder might be your best hope. People report mixed results with them, but some really do work.
Many have rounded or slanted tops so the critter can’t get a good purchase on the feeder and stay on it long enough to extract the seed.
Others have small openings that don’t allow the animal’s nose to fit through and get the seed. Other squirrel-proof feeders have cages that a bird can reach through, but not a bigger critter and others have mechanisms that are closed by the weight of a larger animal and don't allow it to reach the seeds.
The best squirrel-proof bird feeders combine several features and are made of materials a rodent can’t easily chew through.
Many of these feeders do a good job of deterring chipmunks as well. Combined with a baffle, you can turn your bird feeder into Fort Knox as far as unwanted rodents are concerned.
For years I've used a squirrel-proof bird feeder and, while it doesn't stop the squirrels from coming around, they really aren't able to extract much of the seed because of the size of the feeding ports.
One drawback to the squirrel-proof feeders is that some of them don’t accommodate larger bird species such as Cardinals or Blue Jays. If that’s important to you, make sure you research before you buy and get the model you want. I put up a larger feeder for bigger birds.
Other Ways to Deal With Mischievous Rodents
You may stop squirrels from getting into your feeder, but that doesn’t mean they are going to go away! Some birds are messy eaters and will chuck unwanted seeds to the ground as they search for what they want.
This means opportunistic rodents will come around to take advantage of these leftovers, even if they can’t break into the bird feeder themselves. One way to deal with this is to frequently sweep or rake under the feeder. This will not only deter squirrels but also other rodents like chipmunks and mice, and it will make for a healthier environment in the feeder area.
If all else fails and you just can’t stop them, you can try taking the feeder away for a week or so and see if the critters return when you put it back up. These are creatures of habit, and they remember where to find their meals. It may take them a little while to start coming back after they realize your feeder is no longer a place to find food. Unfortunately, you’ll have to reestablish trust with the neighborhood birds as well.
Or, you can go in the other direction. There are feeders and food made especially for squirrels. You can put one of those up in your backyard and hopefully, they will be happy with that and leave your bird feeder alone. Of course, then you have the added expense of buying squirrel food every week, which may make you forget why you had a problem with them to begin with!
Don't Lose Your Mind
Squirrels can cause all kinds of annoyances for homeowners. They may dig up your newly planted bulbs in the spring, or decide to use your flower garden as a place to store their cache. Worse, they have been known to take up residence in attics and homes, and once they do they are tough to get out.
Given the headaches these little rodents cause, it is easy to see why they are considered pests by many people. That’s too bad, because the eastern gray squirrel is an interesting critter in its own right, and, managed correctly, can be an enjoyable backyard visitor.
Of course, the final way to deal with this annoying little dynamo is simply to learn to live with it. They’re wild creatures, and it isn’t reasonable to expect them not to take advantage of a massive energy resource in their area such as a bird feeder.
It might seem like they exist solely to annoy you, but in reality, they are only trying to get by. Sometimes the most mentally healthy way of coping with relatively benign intruders at your bird feeder is to just accept them and prepare for them.
Maybe you’ll spend a few extra bucks on seed every week, but it’s probably cheaper than the psychiatric care you’ll need when the little rodents finally push you over the edge and you’re picked up by the police for running through your neighborhood and yelling, “Help! Squirrels! They’re everywhere!”
You can try installing a squirrel-proof bird feeder and baffle and you may have some success. If not, don’t take it too hard. It may be disheartening to be outsmarted by a squirrel, but remember this is a shifty foe, with skills honed over thousands of years of evolution.
They were finding ways to get food from impossible places long before anyone put up the first bird feeder.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Robin on November 13, 2018:
I have mixed red pepper flakes with the birdseed or cayenne pepper the birds love it and guess what it doesn't deter the squirrels at all they must have strong smel land stomachs
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on September 02, 2018:
@Mike W - That's an interesting idea! I'll have to try it.
Mike W on August 31, 2018:
My wife took a blank CD, tied fishing line to it and hung from bottom of feeder. For some reason it keeps them
From jumping up from ground on to it. And with fishing line strung between 2 points , they can’t walk to it .
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on December 02, 2016:
Hi Valeree. I've heard that too but I've never tried it. The theory is that mammals are much more sensitive to hot pepper than birds, but I'm wary of adding anything to seed that may even potentially harm the birds.
Although, whenever red pepper is added to almost anything I tend to eat more of it. :-)
Valeree47 on December 01, 2016:
I have heard that by adding red pepper spice will keep squirrels from eating the seed, but does not have any affect on the birds...Does anyone know if this is true?
Vic Dillinger on July 21, 2015:
I've begun tossing a feed mix designed for squirreks beneath my bird feeders and it helps, as you said, to keep those rapscallions otherwise occupied.
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on July 21, 2015:
@Elderberry Arts: I try to distract them with other foods too. Sometimes it works, and sometimes they ignore it and prefer to attack my feeder anyway.
@Vic: Yeah, if they can get to it they will. If squirrels weren't so annoying they'd be pretty amazing.
Vic Dillinger on July 21, 2015:
The baffles work if theyre coming from above for sure.
But squirrels, with their little monkey hands, are pretty clever.
I have a bird feeder hanging from a 6-ft shepherd's hook, and watched one tree rat climb thr pole halfway, secure himself with his back feet and tail to the pole, and stretch out perpendicularly, grab the feeder, and pull it towsrd him, where he then proceeded to eat to his heart's content while suspended parallel to the ground.
Claire from Lincolnshire, UK on July 21, 2015:
Useful hub. I have found that putting out some nuts for the squirrels keeps them out of the bird seed and we get to watch them in the garden. They do have a habit of burying some of the nuts in my planters however!