Tired of Squirrels Raiding Your Bird Feeders? Here Are Ten Ways to Outwit Them
Homeowners share their ideas for foiling the creatures
George H. Harrison
Wes Buss is about to experience sensory overload. Stroking some fuzzy cat mint, he spies a colorful burst of Gloriosa daisies, listens to the rustling of Karl Foerster grass, smells fragrant clematis and even nibbles on some Stella D'Ora day lilies—all almost simultaneously. Buss, whose senses have been dulled from Parkinson's disease, joins a busload of his peers twice a year on a short journey to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum's sensory garden in Chanhassen, one of the many interactive and increasingly popular public gardens designed to stimulate the five human senses. "The sensory garden reminds us we can still enjoy many different plants," Buss says. "It really expands the whole perception of our senses."
For many Americans, Public Enemy Number One is a one-pound busybody with industrial strength teeth and a bushy tail: the gray squirrel.
While killer bees and marauding bears occasionally capture headlines, the gray squirrel has been quietly disassembling the infrastructure in some of the nation's backyards, as well as vandalizing homes, sabotaging U.S. businesses and even occasionally assaulting innocent bystanders. It is a prime suspect in half of all unsolved fires, an acknowledged perpetrator in most nonweather-related power failures and a wire chomper responsible for twice bringing stock trades on the NASDAQ to a halt.
Given these creatures' remarkable abilities and destructive power, it's no wonder many homeowners have gone to ridiculous lengths to try to outwit, outmaneuver and outthink the gray squirrels that plague their bird feeders. For some people, it's an all-out war.
Case in point: Ed and Jean LeRoy, who not long ago set up their first bird feeder on a post in their New Berlin, Wisconsin, backyard in the hopes of attracting beautiful songbirds. Their excitement was short-lived, however, when a gray squirrel completely emptied the feeder even before the first bird arrived.
By the second day, the couple was hosting a squirrel convention in their yard. On the third day, Ed LeRoy purchased a squirrel baffle to put on the pole below the bird feeder. Within five minutes, the crafty animals found that they could jump over the baffle and onto the feeder from a nearby tree limb. So LeRoy started cutting tree limbs. The squirrels then jumped from the tree trunk. In response, he cut down the tree. But the squirrels merely jumped to the feeder from another tree further away.
Exasperated, LeRoy was not about to give in to the creatures, so he cut down that tree, too. But then the squirrels learned how to pull down the side of the baffle and climb over it. LeRoy built a better baffle that would not bend, but the squirrels simply jumped to the top of the feeder from the ground. An extension was added to the post, though it didn´t elevate the feeder enough. At last report, the couple was actually considering building a wide moat with water around the feeder.
If the LeRoys' experience is any indication, the war against the gray squirrel is not going well these days. But the situation is not hopeless. After years of battling squirrels myself and talking with other frustrated homeowners, I've discovered some effective solutions to the problem. Here are ten ways that people have successfully foiled the creatures from getting at their bird feeders:
- A man in St. Louis, Missouri, found that a length of aluminum duct mounted under the feeder foils the squirrels. "The squirrels go up the post and into the duct, but no farther," he says.
- For about four dollars, a Quincy, Illinois, homeowner has enjoyed 99 percent squirrel-proof feeders. He attached one end of a Slinky to the top of the pole and allowed the rest to hang so that the pole runs up through the center of the Slinky. Typically, he says, "the squirrels will try to jump onto the pole, grab the Slinky and promptly find themselves dumped to the ground."
- A woman in Tampa, Florida, filled old nylon stockings with eight or ten mothballs and hung them near her feeding station to discourage squirrels. Now, from time to time, she adds more mothballs to keep the scent strong. She reports that since she started doing this, she has just as many birds as ever but no squirrels.
- Using plastic bottles, a Williamsburg, Virginia, resident devised a simple and cheap way to keep squirrels off his bird feeders. "I made holes in the bottom of a few two-liter juice bottles, large enough to get around the post of my bird feeders," he says. "Then hanging them lengthwise, I secured the bottles a few inches below the feeder with duct tape." He used the same setup on a hanging feeder, sliding the bottles down the wire to position them above the feeder.
- Plastic soda bottles strung on heavy galvanized steel wire worked for me when I conducted a bird-seed experiment at my home in Hubertus, Wisconsin. I drilled holes in the bottoms of the bottles and strung them lengthwise on a 30-foot wire that ran through the holes and the open ends of the bottles, eight feet above my patio. The six tube feeders hanging between the bottles were never touched by squirrels, which would have rolled off the bottles had they tried. I´ve also found that a clear plastic dome baffle placed directly above a hanging tube feeder works well, as long as the feeder is high enough off the ground. The squirrels simply slip off the plastic baffle without getting to the feeder.
- The same PVC pipe that is used for plumbing can be an effective deterrent for squirrels, which can't climb it. Using the pipe as a post on which a bird feeder is mounted prevents the creatures from getting any traction. They just slide down. A handyman in Donora, Pennsylvania, decorated his PVC posts with white and black paints to make them look like white birch. He then drilled holes in the tops for attaching the feeders with wire.
- Though some people have wired their feeders with electricity to keep squirrels away, that can be extremely dangerous. A safer alternative is The WildBills bird feeder, which has a built-in, battery-operated charger that lightly zaps squirrels when they make contact. Birds do not get a shock because they cannot make a contact with only two legs. The small charge only startles squirrels; it is far from being strong enough to hurt them.
- A woman in Virginia built a huge chicken wire house, tall enough to stand in so that she could feed the birds and grow tomatoes inside without losing everything to the squirrels. On a smaller scale, commercially made hanging feeders surrounded by wire screen allow small birds to enter and feed, but exclude larger bully birds and squirrels.
- A growing number of backyard birders have switched from sunflower seeds to safflower seeds in their bird feeders. They find that the change in diet is popular with cardinals, house finches, chickadees, nuthatches and mourning doves, but the safflower doesn't appeal to squirrels.
- Some homeowners have simply learned to live with the squirrels. After years of battling them at their feeding station, trying nearly every type of feeder and seed, a couple in Boulder, Colorado, started feeding squirrels on the ground a distance away from their bird feeders. Not only do they spend only a few dollars a month feeding the squirrels, the couple has found that pine siskins and other birds are also attracted to the feeding area on the ground.
Field Editor George H. Harrison's latest book is Squirrel Wars and Other Battles with Backyard Wildlife (Willow Creek Press, 2000).