Everyone who’s grown to love feeding birds in their yard knows one simple truth. Where there are bird feeders, there are squirrels relentlessly attempting to steal your seed. Backyard birders everywhere often wonder, “how can I keep squirrels away from my bird feeders?” They may seem unstoppable with their ability to leap long distances, climb all surfaces, balance on the smallest footholds, squeeze through tiny openings and chew their way through plastic and metal. But with a little thought, planning, and a few tricks you can ensure your seed is reserved for your feathered friends only.
In this article we will discuss five ways bird lovers have had success keeping squirrels out of bird feeders.
- Getting a squirrel proof bird feeder
- Using a baffle
- Placing your feeder in an optimal location
- Choosing food that squirrels don’t like
- Diverting attention away from your feeders by providing the squirrels with another food source
1. Choose a “squirrel proof” bird feeder
Many bird feeders are designed with squirrel defense in mind. Squirrel proof feeders generally use two main tactics for thwarting squirrels – a weight activated closing system, or a cage system.
Weight Activated Closing Systems
These types of feeders use the squirrels own weight to trigger a closing mechanism that will block the food ports. When the door comes down over the ports, the squirrel will be unable to access the seed. Grey squirrels weight approximately 400 – 800 grams, while even the biggest backyard birds weigh only a maximum of 160 grams. Most of the songbirds you will be feeding at your feeder weigh far less than 100 grams. Much lighter than a squirrel! These weighted systems generally work very well. Multiple birds are able to sit on a weighted perch at one time and still will not trigger the closing mechanism.
There are three popular styles of feeder that use a weight activated system. Tube feeders, Hopper feeders, and Fling feeders.
- Tube Feeder: My personal recommendation for a tube feeder is the Squirrel Buster Plus. I’ve owned this feeder for many years and the squirrels have never beaten it. It’s long enough that they cannot hang upside down to reach the ports. It also holds a huge amount of seed, which means less trips outside to refill in the winter! It also comes with a ring perch which larger birds like cardinals seem to prefer.
- Hopper feeder: All types and sizes of birds seem to enjoy the hopper style feeder. Woodlink Absolute Squirrel Resistant Feeder
- Flipper feeder: These feeders use a squirrels weight to activate a motor which then spins the perch around, “flipping” the squirrel off the feeder. Yankee Flipper
Cage systems work on the simple principle that many squirrels are much larger than songbirds. Therefore if you enclose the seed in a cage with small openings, the squirrels will be unable to get through the bars. These are typically tube style feeders with a large metal cage circling the feeder. A side bonus to these feeders is that they can also keep out larger birds like Starlings and Grackles. These birds may hog the feeders and push out smaller birds. However this does also mean larger birds you may want to feed like Cardinals and Blue Jays, will not be able to enter the cage. Droll Yankees Squirrel Proof Dome Caged Feeder.
Here’s an article we did on some the best squirrel proof bird feeders you can get if you’re on the fence about what to buy.
2. Use a Baffle
A baffle is placed above or below a bird feeder and is intended to be a barrier between the squirrel and the feeder. Baffles can be dome shaped, saucer shaped, or torpedo shaped.
- Dome shaped: dome shaped baffles are placed above a bird feeder and look like an umbrella. These are typically used for feeders hanging from trees rather than pole mounted. This is supposed to make it hard for squirrels to maintain solid footing while trying to get around the dome and grab the feeder. The wider the dome is, the more effective it will be. As an added bonus, these baffles do provide some weather protection to the feeder below. Audubon Clear Squirrel Baffle
- Saucer Shaped: these baffles look like big metal plates, or upside down cones, and fit onto your bird feeder pole underneath the bird feeders. Squirrels are deft climbers on wood or metal poles. These baffles create an obstacle that squirrels are not able to navigate around. Again, the bigger the better. You want a very wide area that the squirrel will not be able to stretch and reach around, because they will try! Woodlink Audubon Squirrel Baffle
- Torpedo shaped: these baffles are made to fit onto your bird feeder pole. They have a slick surface and a spring loaded bounce that prevents squirrels from gaining balance and stability. Audubon Torpedo Squirrel Baffle
Note: You must position pole-mounted baffles (such as the saucer shaped or torpedo shaped) high enough up the pole so that the squirrels can’t jump past it from the ground. They can jump about 5 feet vertically, so keep this in mind when positioning your baffle.
3. Using an Optimum Location
It’s true with any real estate – location location location! One of the best ways to avoid squirrels is to choose the least squirrel friendly location for your bird feeders. Hanging your feeder from a pole on your deck or off a tree branch is asking for trouble. Try to mount your feeder as far away from any surfaces squirrels can use as jumping off platforms (tree branch, shrubs, deck railing, shed, garage roof etc).
Squirrels are incredible jumpers. Whether they are starting from a dead stop or taking a flying leap, they can cover a lot of distance. From the ground straight up they can jump around 5 feet, and they are able to leap up to 10 feet between objects!
When using a pole setup, be sure to place the pole at least 10 feet away from any surface that a squirrel can jump from and that the feeder is at least five feet off the ground.
If you need to hang your feeder from trees, consider using the suspension technique. Find two fairly large trees that are at least 10 feet away from each other. Run a wire between the trees, pulled taught, and hang your feeder from the dead center of the wire. If you use a thin and slick wire / cord, such as monofilament fishing line or galvanized wire rope, squirrels should have a hard time being able to get a good grip. However you may want to install some “spinners” on either side of the feeder as an extra safeguard. Spinners can be anything that would roll on a wire and fling a squirrel off, like plastic soda bottles or PVC piping.
Lastly, how about a creative location — your window! Feeders that adhere to your windows with suction cups have become more popular in recent years, and there are several sturdy options available. If you have windows on your house away from deck railings and garage roofs etc, this might be a great option for keeping seed out of the way of pesky squirrels. It is also a great solution for small yards, apartments, or condo complexes. Nature’s Hangout Window Feeder
4. Use Food Squirrels Don’t Like
Spice it up! You might be someone who’s always saying “pass the hot sauce”, but the squirrels can’t handle the heat.
What makes chili peppers so darn hot is the compound capsaicin. When this compound hits certain receptors, it has a powerfully irritating effect and is perceived by the brain as pain. These reactions are very similar to those produced when exposed to dangerous heat. Which is why we sense chilies as being “hot”. Most mammals, squirrels included, experience this reaction to capsaicin. Birds however, do not. Their receptors are very insensitive to the capsaicin compound, which means they can eat the hottest of the hot chilies and not be bothered in the slightest.
This is a great ecological advantage for chili peppers, since the birds can eat their seeds and then disperse the seeds in their droppings. It’s also a natural loophole we can exploit at our bird feeders.
Since this discovery many companies have begun producing both suet and birdseed that incorporates hot pepper. By purchasing suet or birdseed loaded with chili pepper oils & seasoning, you can naturally make your food very unattractive to the squirrels. Most can smell the spice and won’t even attempt to eat it. Others will take one taste and be running for the nearest watering hole.
I can personally attest that squirrels hate this Hot Pepper Suet, however birds absolutely love it. I’ve given some as a gift and people have told me the birds seem to like it even better than their regular suet!
You can also try making your own favorite bird seed spicy by added a quarter cup of hot pepper per 10 pounds of bird seed and mixing well. Or sprinkle some cayenne pepper or similar pepper spice into your birdseed mix. Just remember – you do not want to get hot pepper on your hands where you can accidentally transfer it to your eyes. Always wear disposable gloves when handling hot pepper or products containing hot pepper. Also take care not to breath it in or have any blow in your eyes.
Additionally, squirrels tend to be much less interested in Nyjer (thistle) seed, millet or safflower seed. Using only these seeds in your feeder might make your banquet fairly unappetizing to squirrels. However in my experience, the only seed I’ve seen be consistently ignored by squirrels even in the middle of winter when they are at their most insatiable, is the Nyjer seed. Nyjer is a favorite of all types of finches, however some of your other favorite backyard birds like cardinals or woodpeckers, likely won’t be interested.
5. Divert Attention by Feeding your Squirrels
If you just can’t get the squirrels to leave a particular feeder alone, your best defense might be diversion. It’s true that squirrels will perform grand gymnastic feats to get what they want. However like most creatures they don’t want to expend more energy than they have to, and will follow the path of least resistance. Therefore if you leave an easily accessible food source out for them, they won’t bother going to the trouble to try and get into your bird feeders.
You can hang seed or suet balls from tree branches. Leave out piles of in-shell peanuts, walnuts or even acorns you’ve collected.
Squirrels are entertaining and can be fun to watch. Many people opt for squirrel feeders that will keep the squirrels occupied in one spot in order to watch their amusing antics.
- Jar Feeder: For any kind of nuts, seeds or treats you want to leave for the squirrels, a jar feeder should be able to fit many different types of foods. Birds Choice Squirrel Jar Feeder
- Squirrels also love dried corn cobs, and many people enjoy leaving these out as treats. Corn Feeders usually consist of a simple platform with a post that you screw the cob onto. The Squirrel Shop Picnic Feeder
Methods to Avoid
There are many squirrel deterring methods I’ve seen on the internet that simply are not safe for the squirrels or the birds. If you’re an avid bird watcher chances are you’re also a nature lover. In the spirit of appreciating all mothers natures diverse creatures, please avoid using these potentially harmful methods when trying to keep squirrels out of bird feeders;
- The metal slinky – some people say wrapping a metal slinky around the bottom of a pole will make it difficult for squirrels to climb. This may work at first but they will likely find a way to get past it eventually. Worse – birds, chipmunks and squirrels can get caught and trapped in the metal wiring.
- Greasing the pole – using various oils, greases or vaseline to grease the pole is another trick I’ve seen many discuss. This is messy and you will constantly be reapplying to keep it slick. If you live in a very cold climate some grease and vaseline may even get stiff in very cold temperatures. This just gives the squirrels an even easier textured surface to climb the pole. The problem here is birds can inadvertently get the oils and greases on their feathers, and if it’s too sticky for them to easily clean off, it can hinder their ability to fly.
- Poison – this is frankly just inhumane. Not to mention very dangerous for other wildlife via secondary poisoning. It would be all too easy for your own pets or neighborhood dogs and cats to accidentally be poisoned, or to eat a poisoned squirrel. Not to mention the owls and hawks that eat squirrels, which can also be killed or permanently injured from ingesting poisoned food.
Squirrels get a lot of hate for devouring all your expensive birdseed the moment you turn your back. They’re like a pack of ravenous teenagers raiding your refrigerator. But by using the methods listed above you should be able to coexist peacefully with your furry backyard neighbors. Squirrels are clever, agile, very entertaining to watch, and awfully cute. Enjoy sharing your yard with them, even if you don’t want to share your bird feeders.