Squirrels And Bird Feeders
A few well-placed bird feeders filled with a variety of nuts, seeds, and fat balls is one of the best ways to attract wild birds to your garden. But, unless you’re very lucky, at some point you’re going to face a challenge: squirrels trying to get at the food inside.
Squirrels can walk on wire, jump over a metre straight up and 3 metres across, hang upside down, and climb up almost anything. They can contort their bodies to get through the smallest of holes and chew through plastic and wood, For a hungry squirrel a bird feeder full of nuts is an easy target so you’re going to have to come up with a strategy if you want to prevent these bushy-tailed critters eating you and your birds out of house and home
Where to put your bird feeders
Many people underestimate how far squirrels can jump, so you need to place your bird feeders far enough away from anything from which squirrels can leap.
Hang your bird feeders at least 2.5 m from a tree trunk, roof top, post, or fence, and at least 1.5 m from the ground. This should go some way to prevent squirrels from jumping horizontally or vertically to reach your bird feeders. Unfortunately, in smaller gardens or where there are a lot of overhanging trees or shrubs this is not always practical so you will need to take some further steps to prevent squirrels raiding your bird feeders.
Squirrel-proof bird feeders
Bird feeders made from wood or plastic are most susceptible to squirrels attacking them, but they can also get at food inside metal bird feeders. Squirrel-proof feeders have special features designed to keep squirrels off them. There are three main types of squirrel-proof bird feeder and although none of them will be 100% effective at preventing squirrels stealing your bird food, they will make it harder for them to access it.
Weighted bird feeders
When a squirrel lands on a weighted bird feeder a spring-loaded mechanism causes the ports to shut or a barrier to descend and cover the feeder. Smaller birds that weigh just a few grams won’t trigger the mechanism and you can usually adjust the sensitivity so you have complete control of who can visit your bird feeders. Some weighted bird feeders will throw a squirrel off balance, so it falls of the feeder. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt itself dropping a couple of metres to the ground. Squirrels can fall out of very tall trees and won’t get injured due to how they hold their bodies as they fall. Weighted bird feeders can also be used to prevent larger birds accessing your bird feeders.
Spinner bird feeders
When a squirrel lands on a spinner bird feeder a battery-powered motor is triggered which causes the bird feeder to start spinning. After a few rotations, the squirrel will eventually lose its grip and fall off the feeder without being harmed.
Caged bird feeders
Caged bird feeders, as the name suggests, have a cage with small holes that surrounds a tube-shaped bird feeder which gives birds access but stops squirrels from getting to the food. Make sure you choose a caged bird feeder that has small enough holes; if a squirrel can get its head through a hole it will also be able to get its body through. You also need to make sure the cage is made from strong enough material as squirrels can chew through plastic and even wire mesh. Look out for powder coated steel or aluminium.
Bird feeder accessories
If you’ve got a squirrel problem but don’t want to replace all your bird feeders, then one of your best defences is a squirrel baffle. A squirrel baffle is a metal or plastic device that prevents squirrels climbing up a bird feeder pole or jumping down onto a feeder from above.
Wraparound squirrel baffles are usually shaped like a cone or a dome and are fitted to a bird feeding pole just below the feeders. They are also sometimes shaped like a tube and fit the length of the pole making it impossible for squirrels to get a good enough grip to climb,
Another type of squirrel baffle looks like an inverted bowl and sits over your bird feeders to prevent squirrels attacking from above. These can also be used to help stop starlings accessing the food who don’t usually like to feed under cover.
You could make your own squirrel baffle by drilling a hole in a plastic bowl and securing above or below your bird feeders, or fix a piece of PVC plastic piping along the length of the pole to prevent squirrels from climbing up.
A relatively new innovation is the squirrel slinky. This is a high-tensile steel spring fitted to your bird feeder pole which stretches as a squirrel tries to climb it pushing the squirrel back down to the ground.
Mix up the menu
Nuts and sunflower hearts are firm favourites with squirrels but there are some foods that they’re not so keen on. Niger, millet, and safflower tend to be shunned by squirrels probably because they find the small seeds too difficult to deal with. Despite this, a very determined squirrel may still have a go if it’s hungry enough.