Best strategies for avoiding squirrels at your bird feeder.
Love them or not so much, squirrels are part of your backyard environment. You can purchase or build elaborate feeders to test their intelligence or enter into a pitched battle of wits. If you are not too impressed with them stealing your suet feeder (today’s issue) or watching them feast on Prairie Melody™ Sunflower (actually we like that bit), here is what I do to help them see that natural acorns are a better breakfast choice for them. Did I say that politely enough?
The best strategies center around exclusion, avoidance and exception. Exclusion uses physical barriers or feeder placement to take advantage of the physical limitations of squirrels to keep your feeders safe. Avoidance uses strategies that would cause the squirrel to pass by your feeder to avoid something unpleasant. Exception is using strategies that do not provide for the right food or environment for the squirrels while still providing for songbirds. Lets go into each with the hope that you will find something that works for your situation.
Exclusion is usually the best strategy but it takes some thought and a knowledge of how the different parts of your feeding station work together. Baffles and cages work well as a deterrent but Roger the Rodent has quick wits and long arms, so it isn’t long before I see him feasting again if I haven't done my homework. If your feeders are on a pole, the best baffles are smooth and rigid, placed on the pole under the feeder to keep Roger from climbing up the pole to get to the feeder. The feeder should be about two meters (six feet) from the nearest perch which is farther than he can jump with a good tailwind.
Feeders hanging from branches are the easiest for backyard birders to place and maintain, but also provide easy access to Roger and his pals. This is where we have to think about how a baffle and feeder work together to exclude squirrels while providing for our beloved songbirds. My first effort was to put a witch's hat baffle over my recycled wood platform feeder. Even with the feeder raised to fit under the baffle, the design of the platform feeder gave Roger a pleasant landing on the feeder with a birdseed buffet as reward. The feeder was the same diameter as the baffle and the wires moved under Roger's increasing weight. Back to the drawing board, but at least I had an idea of what I needed to fix and the variables I could change.
Platform is too big for the baffle.
As a test of the exclusion strategy, I used my suet feeder which would tuck almost completely under the baffle. The woodpeckers, flickers and nuthatch that use the suet feeder are all able to approach from below and are happy eating at the feeder.
Downy Woodpecker at Suet Feeder under Baffle
It worked well on a suet feeder, but how about a sunflower seed feeder? I use three types of seed feeders on our trees - wide mesh, solid tube and mesh tube. The wide mesh feeder looked promising because it had the same sort of shape as the suet feeder and could tuck under the baffle. However the wide base and the perch gave Roger just a toe hold (and I mean a toe hold) to snag after several tries. That means a short height with wide base isn't a good option.
Wide base mesh feeder with perch under baffle
A 16 inch baffle will not protect a 10 inch wide feeder.
The key to success must be a short and narrow feeder tucked high under the baffle. I tried this combination with my two favorite feeders and viola! I have success in placing a feeder in our tree without being pestered by Roger and his pals. My 12-inch mesh feeder works great and has never been raided over the past month. The tube feeder in the Prairie Melody™ Classic Gift Pack is a 12-inch solid tube feeder and works well under a 16-inch baffle.
A mesh tube feeder works well under the baffle
Smaller feeder sizes have some benefits for the birds, too. Smaller feeders mean more frequent fillings with fresh seed. Seed that is left in the weather too long can get musty and moldy which is unhealthy for the birds. You also have more opportunity to ensure the feeders are in good working condition.
Lets briefly touch on Avoidance and Exception as strategies to reduce the torment from our clever adversaries. Before figuring out how baffles and feeders can work together, I had to rely upon making the birdseed less desirable to squirrels and nuisance birds. In a desperate attempt at sanity, I checked the all-knowing Internet and that Portal of Knowledge that is YouTube for inspiration. Sure enough my solution was there. Cayenne Pepper and Cinnamon sprinkled in the feeder. The pepper made sense but what is it about the cinnamon? A little more research found that squirrels, raccoons, opossum and deer do not like the smell of cinnamon and avoid it. Viola! To avoid aspiration of the powder irritating the nasal passages of the birds, I apply a thin coat of organic vegetable oil to the sunflower seeds before sprinkling on the powders.
1 liter of Prairie Melody™ Premium Black Oil Sunflower
Organic Vegetable Oil in a spray bottle.
½ tsp Cayenne Pepper powder
½ tsp Cinnamon powder
Lightly coat the seeds with the oil so the powders adhere to the seeds. Sprinkle the powders over the seeds and mix thoroughly. You want to give the seeds a very light coating without clumping which may slow the flow in your feeder. Allow to dry a few minutes and load your feeders.
Exception is offering food in the feeder that my songbirds like but squirrels, sparrows, grackles and other species do not care for. In the case of squirrels, I will mix safflower seeds with Prairie Melody™ Black Oil Sunflower birdseed because safflower is very bitter and squirrels generally avoid it. Likewise, I don't include cracked corn or other filler grains in the birdseed mix because it encourages squirrels and (what I consider) nuisance birds to come to the feeder.
My experience is that Exclusion is the best strategy. A little thought behind the placement of your feeders and the utilization of physical barriers such as baffles are the best way to live in harmony with your squirrels. Of course, you can offer Roger his own feeding station that provides both entertainment for you and a good way to show off his cleverness. There are many good idea boards for the DIYer and many ready-made products for that. Just don't put it too close to the bird feeders.