When we start feeding birds, we want to know how we can attract more of them.
We also want to know which species are visiting the backyard. However, it won’t take long before you also find yourself asking the most frequent bird feeding question and top concern- how to keep squirrels out of bird feeders.
Yes, squirrels happen to love bird feeders just as much as birds do. They can look cute, and it’s always nice to see wild animals in the backyard, but let’s face it, squirrels can be a real nuisance.
If you don’t mind feeding them, no problem!
More squirrels in your garden equals fewer bird nests, and less birds overall.
However, if, like most of us bird lovers, you would rather stick to feeding the birds, you’ll need some squirrel solutions. Read on to learn more about this common challenge and how you can reclaim your garden for the birds.
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What Do Squirrels Like About Bird Feeders?
Squirrels like bird feeders for the same reasons as the birds. Basically, bird feeders act as an easy, reliable, and abundant source of food. Since squirrels eat a lot of the same foods as birds, a backyard feeder is essentially a big, free buffet.
Instead of searching high and low for nuts, a squirrel with access to a bird feeder can sit and feast as much as it wants. Even better, although it is perfectly capable of doing so, it doesn’t even have to shell the nuts! If it happens to somehow get tired of eating free and easy nuts, the arboreal rodent can just switch to munching on seeds.
With the bird feeder above the ground, the squirrel doesn’t have to worry about dogs, cats, or foxes either. It’ll have to be careful of raptors but as long as it has a good escape route, the mammal can enjoy its feast in relative peace.
Should You Keep Squirrels Out of Your Garden?
In most backyards, squirrels are native, wild animals. They are right at home in those neighborhood trees, parks, and wooded backyards. Not to mention, they are cute, can be fun to watch, and can even become tame enough to feed at close range.
In terms of the food chain, squirrels also play another important role. In urban areas, these small mammals are very important prey for Cooper’s Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, and owls. Take squirrels out of the equation, and these raptorial birds would have less to eat. We might not even see them as often in and near our backyards.
With that in mind, shouldn’t we want to have squirrels in the backyard? Shouldn’t we be happy to feed them?
While it is certainly good to promote native wildlife, if certain animals become unnaturally common, they can actually cause problems for other species.
Such is the case for squirrels. When we feed squirrels, they get much more food than they normally eat. This can boost their numbers, which in turn impacts backyard birds. You see, squirrels don’t just feed on nuts and seeds. They can also eat bird eggs and nestlings!
More squirrels in your garden equals fewer bird nests, and less birds overall.
Our Best Tricks To Keeping Squirrels Out Of Your Bird Feeder
Tip #1: Squirrel-Proof Bird feeders
One of the easiest solutions for the backyard squirrel problem is to use squirrel-proof bird feeders. Thankfully, such feeders do indeed exist and can do a great job at keeping birds away from your birdseed.
Although they vary in terms of success, the squirrel-proof bird feeders can work extremely well. Such feeders tend to have weight-activated perches that deny access to feeding ports or even spin the squirrel right off the feeder!
Basically, when the squirrel reaches the feeder, its weight pulls a cover over the feeding holes. No matter how much it tries, the mammal can’t reach the birdseed and it quickly gives up.
Tip #2: Place the Feeder in an Open Area
Arboreal squirrels are animals of forests and woodlands. They have become adapted to backyards, but only when there are enough trees for them to forage and nest in. These small mammals also need lots of trees to hide from the many predators that would love to catch them.
When they go to the ground, squirrels are incredibly vulnerable. It’s why we usually see them hightailing it to the nearest tree, even if there aren’t any predators in sight. If they feel anxious about being on the ground in wooded areas, they feel ten times more worried about being on the ground in open areas.
Tip #3: Use a Squirrel Baffle
A squirrel baffle is any number of cones or other structures you can put on a feeder to keep squirrels away. Aside from using squirrel-proof bird feeders, baffles are probably the most common and easy solution. They can work so well that some people even use them with their squirrel-proof feeders.
This might seem like overkill but in the constant battle between bird feeding and squirrels, it pays to have multiple back up, squirrel prevention plans!
A baffle can be placed above the feeder or below it. No matter where we use them, they make it very difficult for squirrels to reach the feeder.
Tip #4: Make sure to Hang the Feeder at Least 8 Feet from Anything a Squirrel Can Jump From
Squirrels are extremely agile animals. Living in trees, they have to be capable of running up and down trunks, scurrying along branches, and jumping long distances. These small animals can make some impressive leaps but they do have their limits.
For this reason, the best way to keep squirrels from jumping to your feeder is to place it at least 8 feet from any branch or other place a squirrel can jump from.
When you install the feeder, take a close look at all possible “leaping platforms”. If a squirrel can find a way to jump onto the feeder from a roof, shed, or even the top of a truck, you can bet it’ll do it!
Tip #5: Hang the Feeder from a Metal Pole at Least 4 inches in Diameter
Squirrels are of course excellent climbers but once again, they also have their limits. If installing a feeder on a pole, don’t use a wooden pole or other material a squirrel can dig its claws into.
Stick with a metal pole, the smoother, the better. It should be at least four feet above the ground and has to have a diameter of at least 4 inches. Squirrels can wrap their little paws around anything thinner than that and will climb that pole in seconds.
However, they can’t usually make it up a thicker pole, and especially if the pole is wet or greased.
Tip #6: Don’t Overfill the Feeder
Squirrels love to have a constant, good source of food. If other tactics aren’t working and squirrels are still making it to your precious birdseed, limiting their food might help.
Try filling the feeder to a quarter of its capacity and see if that works. Hopefully, your backyard birds will eat most of the food before the squirrel arrives. If the mammal doesn’t find enough on two or three occasions, it might realize that your feeders aren’t worth the effort.
On a related note, overfilling feeders can also result in birdseed going bad and having a negative effect in your backyard birds.
Tip #7: Pepper Spray!
Yes, pepper spray works very well on squirrels! But no, you should never spray it at them (!) and you don’t need to. Like people, squirrels are affected by capsaicin, the compound that makes peppers so “hot.”
They don’t like it one bit and will avoid feeder poles and feeders prayed with the substance.
Likewise, you can also tie a few hot peppers on the feeder pole. As for the birds, they aren’t the least bit affected by capsaicin, as they can’t taste it. I have seen some tropical species actually eating and loving hot peppers!
Pepper spray might sound a bit too drastic, but you can use other similar things too, even cayenne pepper. Some people even mix it with bird seed.
If you do use the pepper solution, remember to reapply it after rainy weather.
Tip #8: Keep the Area Below the Feeder Clean
Messy feeders can bring in some sparrows and ground birds but these aren’t the only animals they attract. At night, rodents can come in, and during the day, those fallen peanut pieces are pretty tempting for a squirrel.
If a squirrel finds food on the ground, it won’t be long before it does its best to reach the true feeding bonanza. Not to mention, even squirrels on the ground can scare birds away, especially those neat little sparrows and juncos.
The easiest solution is to just keep the ground below your feeder clean. You can also try using feeders that have less spillage.
Tip #9: Use Certain Types of Birdseed
Another solution is to fill the feeder with food that squirrels don’t like. If you are having squirrel issues, this is a good, quick fix.
The small mammals really love peanuts, other nuts, corn, and sunflower seeds. They don’t like Nyjer seeds (Black Thistle), Safflower seeds, Rapeseed, and Millet.
For whatever reason, it seems that squirrels won’t touch these types of seeds. However, most birds love them. Nyjer is especially good for goldfinches and other finch species with small beaks. However, to also bring in cardinals, doves, and other birds, you have to mix it with millet, safflower, and rapeseed.
Tip #10: Plant Certain Types of Flowers Near the Feeder
This type of squirrel prevention also doubles as a nice way to beautify the yard. Squirrels don’t particularly like bright flowers or flowers with heavy scents.
Learn more: Gardening for birds
As luck would have it, both birds and people like them. Put plants like mint, hyacinth, geraniums, and other pretty flowers around the base of your feeder pole and squirrels might think twice about paying a visit.
Combine those plantings with a baffle and/or a squirrel-proof feeder and you should be in good shape!
Frequently Asked Questions
Are squirrels good or bad to have around?
Squirrels are good to have around but not so much in backyards with bird feeders.
What can I use to keep squirrels away from my bird feeders?
You can use squirrel baffles, squirrel-proof bird feeders, and repellents to keep squirrels away from your bird feeders.
What is the best homemade squirrel repellent?
The best homemade squirrel repellent is a mix of hot sauce, vinegar, and garlic. Spray that around the base of your feeder pole to keep squirrels away.
What smell do squirrels hate the most?
Smells that squirrels hate the most are predator scents, cinnamon, garlic, and vinegar.