“Squirrel-Proof” Bird Feeding

Assault weapons have gotten a lot of bad press lately, but they’re manufactured for a reason: to take out today’s modern super-animals, such as the flying squirrel and the electric eel.

– Lenny Leonard

We enjoy watching the wildlife in our yard. Many of our plants were chosen because of their association with animals. We also have a few bird feeders around the place.

Unfortunately, the resident squirrels do not realize that the bird food is not really for them.

We don’t wish the squirrels any harm; we even have a squirrel feeder. The problem is that one moderately hungry squirrel can empty a bird feeder in an afternoon, which may only cost peanuts, but can add up over time.

I have come to the slow realization that it is not possible to prevent squirrels eating some of the bird seed. But, over the years, we have refined our bird feeding techniques to limit squirrel damage.

There are three basic strategies for squirrel-proof bird feeding:

  1. Stop the squirrels getting to the feeder,
  2. Use a feeder that denies access to squirrels, and
  3. Use food that squirrels find unpalatable.

1. Baffling Squirrels

The obvious way to stop squirrels getting to the feeder is to use squirrel baffles. This essentially puts an obstacle in the way of the squirrel. You can buy baffles from home improvement stores, garden centers, specialist stores, or online.

You can also make your own baffle.

We have tried baffles on poles with feeders at the top. And they do stop the squirrels from climbing up the pole. But they do not stop the squirrels jumping from trees or fences to reach the feeder. Seriously! Those are some acrobatic SOBs. If we had an area that was far enough away from trees and fences, this would probably be effective.

Another thing I tried was suspending a bird feeder from very thin wires attached to the house and fence at three points. This was by far my most successful attempt at preventing squirrels from reaching the feeder. But I had to take it down because Stacey said it looked ridiculous, and if there’s one thing I hate more than squirrels eating bird food, it’s mockery.

Anyway, if you have a spot that is away from things that squirrels could jump from, then a baffled bird feeder will probably solve your squirrel problem.

2. Confounding Squirrels

A little poking around on the interwebs will reveal that there are quite a few squirrel-proof feeders out there. They work on two principles:

  1. A squirrel is heavier than a bird, and
  2. A squirrel is bigger than a bird.

Type 1 feeders have a spring-loaded mechanism that does not react to the weight of a bird, but closes off the feeding holes under the weight of a squirrel. So, the squirrel is denied access to the food while the birds can feed freely.

We have two spring-loaded feeders, and they have been very effective. They do not stop the squirrels from getting food, but they do slow them down.

DSCF5651It’s quite amusing to watch a young squirrel try to figure out how to get a meal. They can see the food through the clear sides, but can’t reach it. Often they hang from a branch, from where they can see the food in the feeding holes, but as soon as they put any weight on the feeder, the food is closed off.

There are some clever squirrels that find ways to get at the food, such as hanging from the underside and craning their necks up to take one nut or seed at a time. But it clearly takes a lot of strength to perform this feat. They can eat for as long as they have the strength, but they certainly don’t empty the feeder in an afternoon.

Type 2 feeders are surrounded by a wire mesh. Small birds can get through the holes in the mesh, whereas squirrels, being larger, cannot.

We have not tried this kind of feeder. I imagine it would work well, but I think it looks a bit unsightly. Also, we have larger birds such as blue jays and red-bellied woodpeckers that visit our feeders, and I wouldn’t like to deny them access.

3. Unpalatable Food

I can sum this section up in two words: safflower seeds.

I came across this solution when I was trying to find a way to attract cardinals to the yard. Apparently, cardinals do not like to turn their heads to the side to eat. So, I tried a hanging feeder with extra roomy perches that they could eat from in a straight-on manner. But still no cardinals.

Then I found out that cardinals really like safflower seeds. I also discovered that squirrels are not fond of safflower seeds.

Safflower seeds have a hard husk that has to be removed and discarded. This may be why squirrels aren’t keen on safflower. Cardinal beaks seem to be designed for the task, though, as do some finch beaks.

So, in about ten minutes, I knocked together a suspended platform feeder and hung it from a hook in the front garden. I used a spare squirrel baffle as a roof.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd it worked — the safflower seed began to attract cardinals to the feeder. We also get a lot of house finches on that feeder, which is an added bonus.


Two squabbling male house finches and a female. The cardinals didn’t cooperate for a photo.


House finch and cardinal (Via)

In the middle of winter, when they’re really hungry, the squirrels will eat the safflower seeds. They jump on to the feeder from the adjacent crabapple tree. On landing they set the feeder swinging and some seed gets thrown off. But it doesn’t amount to much wastage, and most of the seeds get eaten by birds on the ground.

So, we have found a number of ways to prevent squirrels from taking all the bird seed. We fill the squirrel-proof feeders with the more expensive food that attracts woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, etc. And we put safflower seed on the squirrel-friendly feeders for cardinals and house finches.

That’s what works for us. If you still have squirrel trouble, you can at least be thankful that you don’t have this problem.

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