Anyone who’s ever tried to attract feathered friends to their backyard by installing a bird feeder knows: If you install it, they will come. “They” being squirrels, of course — and it doesn’t seem to matter if the feeder is labeled “squirrel resistant” or “squirrel proof” or not — the furry little acrobats seem to just take those as a challenge rather than an actual deterrent. So how do you keep squirrels out of bird feeders? We tapped top critter experts for their best tips.
Squirrels have strong bodies but forgetful minds
“The issue with squirrels is that they are both extremely motivated and extremely agile,” says Brandon Thorsell, manager at Critter Control in Ontario, Canada. In fact, squirrels can fall 100 feet without injury, and can jump up to 8 feet high from a sitting position, which is to say nothing of their excellent climbing ability. Foragers by nature, squirrels will eat up to a pound of food a week, which can include nuts, seeds, fruit, plants, mushrooms and even some insects. They will gather far more food than they actually can eat, though, which is why they bury it in underground “caches” for the winter, when food sources are scarce.
As it happens, they also forget a lot of their caches, which is one way squirrels, (aka nature’s little farmers) help their natural environment: some of the seeds and nuts they bury and forget will eventually grow into future trees and plants. But you likely don’t want that happening with the specialty seed you purchased to attract cardinals to your garden. (Click through for window bird feeders birds will love.)
“That means installing a truly squirrel-free bird feeder is going to take some ingenuity. Luckily we’ve gathered the top expert-recommended methods. Just read on to learn easy ways to truly squirrel-proof your feeder.
To keep squirrels at bay: Hang the feeders high
Since squirrels can fall from great heights and leap tall buildings — as well as run up to 20 mph (not quite as fast as Superman) — the placement of your bird feeder can go a long way toward keeping the bushy-tailed critters away. Thorsell suggests, “Make sure it’s at least 10 feet off the ground, so the squirrels can’t just leap onto them, and equally far from any low-hanging tree branches or your roof, so they can’t jump on them from above either.”
To keep squirrels at bay: Try a baffle
And, no, this doesn’t mean you need to stand outside and ask the squirrels riddles. “A baffle is simply a cone- or dome-shaped object you place on the string or pole over or under your feeder, which prevents squirrels from climbing up or down to access the food,” explains Tom Monson, owner of Monson Lawn & Landscaping in St Paul, Minnesota.
To keep squirrels at bay: Raid your toy chest
A similar method to a baffle is to grab that Slinky that’s been sitting in your attic toy box for decades and wrap it around the pole, attaching one end to the bottom of the feeder. When the squirrel tries to climb up, it will have to grab onto the bottom of the Slinky. Its weight will cause the toy to drag it back down to the bottom of the pole every time.
To keep squirrels at bay: Trip them up on a high wire
Instead of hanging your feeder from a tree, suspend your feeders on a wire attached between two poles or trees, and string old CDs, records or plastic soda bottles on it to prevent the critters from walking across to the feeder.
Or, if you prefer to install your feeder from a pole, look for ones made from PVC or copper, which squirrels naturally find difficult to climb. Wooden poles and those made from other metals seem to be no problem for them to traverse.
To keep squirrels at bay: Put out a bad buffet
Squirrels have a pretty varied diet, but there are some options birds love that squirrels will typically avoid. “Try using bird food comprised of safflower seed, white proso millet, nyjer seed, canary seed or canola,” says Thorsell. “Most of the time, squirrels will give these a wide berth.”
…and counter it with a good buffet
Combine bird feeders filled with untasty options with an easy-to-grab squirrel snack elsewhere on your property, and you’ve upped your chances of success even more. “You can get actual squirrel feeders, fill them with foods squirrels prefer, like nuts and berries, and place these on the fringe of your property,” says Nikki Thomas, co-founder of Backyardville.com. “This method is a wonderful compromise that enables both creatures to find sustenance in your yard without having to compete for it.”
To keep squirrels at bay: Sprinkle hot pepper flakes
Sprinkling hot pepper flakes or cayenne pepper around a feeder’s base can deter squirrels from accessing it. “Birds don’t react to capsaicin — the chemical in hot peppers that makes them spicy — but squirrels do,” explains Jeniffer Smith, owner of UrbanHomeCorner.com. “It won’t harm either creature, but squirrels will avoid being near it.”
To keep squirrels at bay: Try a swivel hook
Hanging your feeder from a spinning hook can send any thieving squirrels for a ride. When they try to grab onto the feeder from above or below, their weight will send the whole container into a tailspin and knock the squirrel off. Birds flying in for a snack won’t be heavy enough to trigger the dizzying effects.
What *not* to do to keep squirrels out of bird feeders
You may have read to apply grease or oil to your feeder pole, but all experts agree, not only is it ineffective, some animals, including birds, may try to ingest it and get sick.
For more ways to keep pests from your disturbing your garden:
Lindsay Bosslett is currently associate vice president and managing editor for Health Monitor Network, a patient-education print and digital publishing company. In her role there, she oversees a staff of editors and freelance writers, as well as the production of guides and magazines designed to help both patients and healthcare providers in the ever-changing point-of-care space. As a regular writer for both Woman’s World’s Organized column and First for Women’s Life Smarts page, she delivers practical, creative tips to help women make their lives easier. In her free time, Lindsay enjoys reading, hiking, gardening and attending taco festivals. She lives with her husband, two dogs and lots of bears in a little house on a hill in West Milford, N.J.
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