Is there really such a thing as a squirrel-proof bird feeder? Is it even possible to keep all of those furry thieves away form your bird feeders?
I don’t know about you, but one of the most frustrating aspects of feeding wild birds is losing half of your bird seed in one day to squirrels. Usually one big, fat, smart squirrel, to be exact.
I used to hang my hummingbird feeder from the trellis at the entrance to my garden:
Until one day, I noticed a squirrel climbing stealthily up the metal trellis. From my office window, I could see him looking both ways, assessing his chances. Then he leaped onto the hummingbird feeder. He used his weight to rock the feeder as he hung by his toes from the top, sticking his head near the big yellow plastic flowers. He lapped up the sweet red liquid nectar from the feeder. He swung the feeder harder until liquid slopped over the edges into a puddle on the ground. Then he scampered down and drank from the puddle on the pathway under the feeder.
That’s when I moved to the feeder closer to the porch, where the cats patrol, and hung it from a pole that is a little more difficult for squirrels to climb.
Squirrels are smart. Super smart. According to an article called Squirrel Psychology, gray squirrels can learn from one another. Because they are hard-wired to recognize another squirrel as a potential threat to their food supplies, they watch what other squirrels do, and mimic their rivals’ actions to obtain more food.
A fellow named Steve Barley even designs assault courses for his squirrels. It’s funny as heck, even if it is a bit frightening:
Now you can see why and how squirrels have come to be one of the most dreaded foes of all when it comes to feeding wild birds!
To answer my original question: Is there really such a thing as a squirrel-proof bird feeder?
Bird Feeders with Baffles
According to the Cornell Ornithology Laboratory, bird feeders with baffles are effective. The laboratory staff tested their own feeders against the gray squirrels living near Cornell and reported good success. You can read the short paper on it at What Can You Do About Squirrels?
There are several types of baffles:
- Cylindrical bird feeder baffles, which encircle the pole on which a feeder is mounted and prevent the squirrel from climbing the pole. Since squirrels can leap 8 to 10 feet, however, you’ve got to keep the feeder well away from trees, decks and other perches the squirrel can use as a launching pad.
- Tilting baffles, which have an umbrella-shaped dome over the feeder. This makes it difficult for squirrels to approach the feeder from above. In the first picture, the blue pagoda-style top worked fairly well at my house on Long Island to keep most squirrels away from the feeder.
- Specialized weight-activated feeders, one of my favorites. These feeders have weight activated gates that slam down over the food ports when a squirrel lands on the feeder. Birds won’t trigger the mechanism, but squirrels do. Unfortunately, some pissed off squirrels have been known to dig at the gates and gnaw at them until they get through.
- Bird seed additives, such as capsaicin, the active substance in chili peppers, can be safely added to bird seed. It burns spicy hot inside the mouths of squirrels but doesn’t hurt birds at all. You have to be very careful using it, according to the National Wildlife Association, because it can also burn and sting your eyes and hands – it affects all mammals. It’s also the active ingredient in many of the spring flower bulb sprays and squirrel deterrents. It deters all mammals, too, not just squirrels.
In my own yard, I have the two best deterrents now: one German shepherd dog and four outdoor cats. The cats harass the squirrels, but unfortunately also harass the birds upon occasion. The dog is only effective when she’s out in the yard, which isn’t as often as she’d like, I’m sure.
But in the meantime, the birds find my feeders, and the squirrels have to go elsewhere. Until the next day, when they somehow manage to outwit us all and empty the bird feeder!
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