Agh! Squirrels! While these cute little creatures aren't exactly evil, you probably didn't spend hundreds of dollars on bird houses, bird feeders and bird baths to create a squirrel sanctuary. (But if you did, we love that! Send us pics!)
When you bought your first bird feeder, you probably filled it to the brim with sunflower seeds, hung it from your favorite tree and got on with your day. How long until your bird feeder turned into a neighborhood bistro for every squirrel in town? A day? A week? A month?
Whether squirrels broke into your bird feeders the day you installed them or months down the line, you're probably looking for a safe, ethical way to keep them at bay.
If you've been looking for actionable, tested tips and tricks to help keep squirrels away, you're in luck. We've rounded up thirteen tried-and-true methods to prevent squirrels from eating out of your bird feeders.
1. Elevation, elevation, elevation
Birds have wings. Squirrels, well, don't. Unless you're dealing with a flying squirrel infestation, in which case, yikes! This tip is all about keeping bird feeders high enough (and distant enough) to keep squirrels off every feeder pole and bird feeder in your yard.
So, here's the scoop: In general, a squirrel will not jump more than 5 feet up off the ground. They will not jump more than 7 feet across. And they will not jump down more than 9 feet from above. If you can find a safe space to hang a bird feeder that checks all the boxes of the 5-7-9 rule, you may have some success keeping squirrels from reaching your bird feeder.
This rule, though, is more appealing in theory than in practice. Think about all the places you see squirrels in your neighborhood. On power lines, on roofs, jumping from tree to tree. Can you really identify a good place (that's high enough and distant enough) for a bird feeder that a squirrel can't access? If not, keep reading.
2. Use wire to outsmart squirrels
Still trying to wrap your brain around our previous suggestion? Well, wire is your answer. Squirrels are too big to walk on vertically-positioned wire, so they'll have to jump up and down it instead. If you can suspend bird feeders at least nine or ten feet from a pole and at least five feet above ground, you should keep squirrels away.
What kind of wire should you use to hang a bird feeder? You can use whatever you wish, as long as it's durable and safe. Visit your local hardware store to find out what type of wire is best for the climate you live in.
Because you're using wire to create a squirrel proof bird feeder, you'll get the added bonus of being able to select any bird feeder you wish. Our recommendation? This classic red and white suet feeder.
3. Purchase a squirrel baffle
Yes, a squirrel baffle is a real thing. (I know. We think the name is silly, too.)
Squirrel baffles are wobbly pieces of metal that are affixed to the top of bird feeders and bird houses.
Here's how they work: Once installed, they literally baffle the squirrel with their slippery, no-grip surface. Baffles are also a protective shield, helping preserve bird seed from the elements. (An important note: baffles are meant to discourage and redirect squirrels, not harm them. Any baffle that you believe could put a squirrel in harm's way should not be used.)
You can buy a baffle in a variety of different shapes and sizes, so look for one that meets your needs. Here are the three most popular:
A wrap-around squirrel baffle is great for keeping squirrels away from bird feeders. By creating a conical, unstable separation between the pole and the bird feeder, wrap-around baffles deter squirrels from stealing bird seed.
Torpedo baffles also keep squirrels away from bird feeders. These bullet-shaped baffles can turn any trafficked pole into a dead-end tunnel for scavenging squirrels. By turning a pole into a one-way street, you can divert rodent traffic away from feeders, bird houses and more.
Lastly, a dome baffle--which looks like an upside-down serving bowl--effectively keeps squirrels away from bird feeders. The steep curves and rounded edges of the spherical dome deter squirrels especially well. Plus, a dome baffle also provides extra protection from weather and predators to helpless birds.
You can easily find baffles online, and they are also available at well-stocked hardware and home improvement stores. You may want to try a variety of baffles to find out what works best.
4. Choose your bird seeds wisely
Birds aren't particularly picky scavengers. They'll eat pretty much whatever. But, it seems, squirrels don't like safflower seeds. Try adding some to your bird feeders. Adding a not-so-appealing seed to your bird blend might be enough to keep squirrels out of your bird feeders for good.
Squirrels don't like nyjer seeds or white proso millet either, so mix some in with your standard-issue sunflower seeds.
Hopefully, this low-maintenance trick will be enough to keep squirrels at bay. You don't have to throw out all your seed, either. You can simply add these three "squirrel repeller" seeds to your mix.
5. Spice up your feed
Squirrels and birds have very different taste buds. As it turns out, birds don't perceive heat and spiciness the same way people (or acorn-gobbling squirrels) do.
Now, whether this tip actually works or is just an old wives' tale isn't quite clear. But rumor has it that drooping a spoonful or so of dehydrated cayenne pepper into your bag of seed can squirrel-proof bird food.
Why? Well, that spicy feeling we get when we eat a hot dish comes from a compound in spicy food known as capsaicin. Mammals have specific nerves in our mouth that react to hot peppers... and squirrels are mammals! But birds, of course, are not. Birds can chow down on seeds from hot peppers happily, but squirrels detest it.
So, if you're looking for a squirrel proof feeder, it may be more about what's inside of it than you think!
A little disclaimer: some bird-lovers believe that spicy seeds and pepper can bother birds' eyes. Please do your research before choosing this method.
6. Put a spin on it
Try using a spinning hook to hang bird feeders. The motion is a major deterrent, and is one of many ways to keep squirrels out of bird feeders. You can find a spinning hook at your local hardware store, or online.
You can also try to find a feeder that's designed to spin.
It's important to note that this method should not pose a risk to squirrels. Its goal is to make it hard for squirrels to access your bird feeder. If you have any reason to believe the spinner you are considering could harm squirrels, please try another method.
To learn more about several inhumane, inadvisable squirrel prevention techniques and why you should never attempt them, head to the very end of this article.
7. Feed the squirrels, too
We know, we know. You don't exactly want to attract squirrels to your yard. So giving them their own feeder might seem ultra counterintuitive.
Still, some homeowners have found that offering squirrels their own supper can keep them away from your bird feeders. Squirrels like peanuts and dried corn on the cob.
You can buy a squirrel feeder online, or make one yourself. To make a squirrel feeder like this one from the DIY Network, you'll need scrap wood, a table saw, a drill and some galvanized screws.
8. Try a slinky... really!
Okay, this strategy seems a little bananas, too. But some gardeners swear by attaching a Slinky to the end of a bird feeder so it wraps around the post. When a squirrel tries to jump on the Slinky to get to the bird feeder, gravity simply sends him back down to the ground. It's like a very cute elevator.
The slinky serves as a sort of DIY baffle, baffling squirrels to keep them out of your birds' food source. You can find a Slinky at most toy stores, or online.
9. Upgrade to a caged bird feeder
While switching out your bird feeder should be a last resort, some homeowners do find that an enclosed, caged bird feeder is quite effective at keeping squirrels away.
How do caged bird feeders work? Well, the openings of the cage are perfectly-sized. They're wide enough to allow small birds in, but narrow enough to keep squirrels out. While there's no such thing as a squirrel-proof bird feeder, this is as close as you'll ever get.
If you can, look for a vintage caged feeder. They're just as effective at keeping squirrels out, and infinitely more fabulous.
10. Choose PVC or copper poles
When choosing feeder poles to hang your bird feeder from, you may want to reconsider those made of wood or metal. Squirrels expertly climb up and down these materials, making it even harder to keep them out of bird feeders.
Instead, select poles made from PVC or copper. When a squirrel climbs poles like these, they'll have a harder time reaching the birds' food source. Most feeder poles are not made from these materials, so you may need to get your hands a little dirty. Or, you can buy a prefabricated pole designed to deter squirrels.
11. Keep your yard tidy
Nobody likes a messy yard. Except for squirrels, that is.
When birds feast on the seed provided by your bird feeders, they make quite the mess. And that mess may be one of the key reasons squirrels and other pesky rodents are attracted to your yard in the first place. Once they've arrived, they're unlikely to retreat.
There are two ways to keep the mess your feathered friends make at bay. You can clean up after them yourself, or add a seed tray to the bottom of your bird feeder. The seed tray does a pretty good job of collecting debris.
Yes, this kind of yard work can be a bit of a drag, but a little bit of tidiness can really go a long way.
12. Deter squirrels with soap
Supposedly, squirrels detest the small of Irish Spring soap. The musky, masculine scent is said to keep squirrels at bay... so why not give it a shot?
Simply hang a bar of the soap not too far from your bird feeder. To protect wildlife, make sure to place the bar of soap in an old sock. You'll also want to reconsider this strategy during the summer, when sweltering temperatures can turn a bar of soap into a hot mess in just a few hours.
13. Buy a squirrel stopper pole
If you want to make sure your squirrels don't get anywhere near your bird feeders, you might want to buy a ready-to-install squirrel stopper pole and baffle set, like this one. A squirrel stopper pole combines many of the tactics discussed about for a near-100% squirrel proof bird feeder.
Best of all, you can hang your favorite bird feeders right from the pole. No need to go out and buy special feeders or get rid of the bird feeders you already love. Simply hook them right on to the squirrel proof feeder pole and enjoy!
So, there you have it! Our 13 best strategies to keep squirrels away from trees, bird food and and feeders. Let us know what methods work best for you in the comments!
Avoid These Harmful Methods of Repelling Squirrels
Listen, most of us don't want squirrels wreaking havoc on activities, shelters and amenities we've created as safe havens for beloved birds. But, no matter how frustrated and bewildered we become, we will never suggest a harmful method of keeping squirrels out of bird feeders.
After all, just like the cute little birds who visit your backyard, squirrels are scavengers looking for their next meal. You don't want them to starve! You just want them to not take your bird feeders hostage!
It's likely someone, somewhere along the way, has recommended one of these ways to keep squirrels out of bird feeders. If you've heard any advice like this, our Happy Gardens team implores you to throw it out the window.
No Glue and Other Adhesives
Any method that seeks to "catch" squirrels is cruel and unusual punishment. While you may keep squirrels out of your bird feeder, at what cost? The best case scenario is that they rip off their fur trying to scape, which is just awful. Plus, when they do escape, they could easily eat toxic glue trying to clean themselves.
Worst case scenario, squirrels could stay stuck on the poles indefinitely.
No Poison, Ever
If anybody (or any article) suggests planting poison to keep squirrels out of bird feeders, walk away! Poisoning squirrels who are just looking for a little lunch is cruel. And it puts everyone else who shares a yard with those squirrels at risk, too. Your children, your dogs, your cats, and those birds you've been enticing, too.
No Petroleum Jelly or Grease
Petroleum jelly is sometimes touted as a way to squirrel proof bird feeders. Greasing up a feeding pole to keep squirrels away is downright inhumane. They sustain serious injuries if they slip, slide or fall off a pole too quickly or clumsily.
What's more, the grease can be really hard to get off their coats. They may eat some while they try to groom themselves. Or they can damage their fur and struggle to stay warm during colder months. Not good!
About Happy Gardens
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