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11 Ways to Manage Squirrels at Bird Feeders

If given permission, squirrels will consume a hefty portion of the birdseed you put out for your feathered friends. These furballs eat as much (and as frequently) as my teenage son. The average gray squirrel eats about 4 ounces of food per day (that’s almost 2 pounds of food per week). Over the past few years, I’ve developed a solid strategy that helps reduce the raids by squirrels on my feeders while still allowing them a place in my animal-friendly ecosystem.

Using the right combination of foods that squirrels won’t eat, like safflower, nyjer, and white prosso millet seeds will immediately help reduce birdseed consumption by squirrels. Using special animal baffles on pole-mounted feeders and weather-dome covers above tube feeders will deter most squirrels. Where you place your bird feeders is also very important. Making sure your feeders are not directly under trees or near places where a squirrel can jump to your feeder (squirrels are known to jump 9 feet horizontally) can help reduce squirrel traffic. Experts recommend against adding cayenne pepper to birdseed or offering “hot” varieties of birdseed. Using Vaseline or other greasy products to smear on poles to make them slippery, or adding devices with shocking electrical currents, could hurt wildlife and should always be avoided.

1. Try Safflower Seed

According to Birds & Blooms Senior Digital Editor Lori Vanover, “Safflower is a thistle-like annual with bright orange and yellow flowers that’s grown to make cooking oils. The seeds, which are high in protein and fat, are slightly smaller than sunflower seeds. A hard white shell protects the meat and has a slightly bitter flavor.” The bitter flavor is what is said to deter most squirrels (and starlings, too). Remember, results may vary depending upon your neighborhood.

I have had success with both Wagner’s and Kaytee’s brands of white safflower seeds. If you have a Lowe’s nearby, you can save with their Audubon brand.

Lyric, a higher quality, premium bird food brand that I love, has a beautiful golden safflower seed variety. I was a little skeptical when I first tried it out this winter, but my birds went nuts over it. The golden safflower packs a bigger nutritional punch than the white safflower seed, too.

Safflower seed works best in hopper or platform-style feeders.

2. Offer Nyjer Seed

Nyjer seed (often mistakenly referred to as thistle seed) comes from a yellow daisy-like flower grown in specific regions of Africa and Asia. Most of the world’s nyjer seed crop is exported to the United States just for birdseed production. The tiny black seed is rich in oil, producing a high-fat favorite for birds like goldfinches, house finches, buntings, and pine siskins.

If you’re starting out offering nyjer to your backyard birds, begin slowly with a basic mesh wire feeder. I’ve hung them on shepherd hooks and deck poles. Begin by filling up your feeders halfway until you build sufficient traffic. Broadcast some seeds on the ground below your feeders to help attract attention. Mesh feeders attract moisture, so be sure to look for any clumping seed, mold, or rancid smells. Be patient. A new nyjer feeder sometimes takes a little time to get active.

I have observed that nyjer needs to be really fresh to be accepted by my birds. I’ve had them turn their beaks up at my nyjer feeders from time to time. I dump out the food, give the feeders a good cleaning, and start fresh. If your birds aren’t eating your seeds, they’re telling you something!

Store your unused nyjer in airtight containers in a cool, dry location.

I’ve used Kaytee and Wagner brand nyjer seed with success. Lyric brand is a premium level, high-quality nyjer seed, which I’ve also offered as a special treat. I recommend all three brands.

Lindy’s Seed Suggestions:

3. Millet seed is a good alternative

Millet or proso millet is a small, round, white, or red seed contained in birdseed blends often formulated for songbirds or finches. It’s also a seed that squirrels don’t particularly like, so it’s a good choice for your squirrel-reducing strategy. Millet is readily available in retail and online stores in branch or spray form. Birds can nibble off the tiny seeds from the pretty brown branches, which you can hang outside or offer on a platform feeder. Bulk millet seeds are a little trickier to find but are available online and in specialty feed stores.

Consider mixing up a custom blend of squirrel-resistant feed by combining small batches of safflower, millet, and nyjer.

4. Use a squirrel baffle on pole-mounted feeders

Baffles are clever devices that (usually) thwart a squirrel or other creature from successfully accessing a bird feeder. They are shaped like a disk or a cylindrical bell and made of plastic or metal. Installed correctly, they will “float” around the circumference of your bird feeder pole, blocking the path of a climbing animal. Baffles must be installed at the right height on a pole to be effective, usually at least four feet off of the ground. Squirrels can leap up and across considerable distances, so ensuring your pole is high enough to accommodate a baffle is essential before installation. Read directions carefully when mounting these baffles.

5. Use a weather dome on hanging feeders

If you have a tube feeder, weather-domes or dome baffles can effectively deter squirrels from your feeders. These are generally made of colored or clear plastic and have different slopes that range from a slightly curved plate to a large upside-down salad bowl design. Made with a center hook, you hang your tube feeder under the dome and then attach the dome to your shepherd hook, deck hook, or hanging pole. Squirrels cannot reach down past the dome to access the seed, plus you get the added benefit of having a weather guard over your tube feeder to keep your birds and your bird seed dry in inclement weather.

This heavy-duty weather dome plays two roles – it protects your feeder from the weather and helps deter squirrels.

Results vary with these, and some of the more tenacious squirrels find a way around these domes.

Avoid the cheaper plastic models as they break easily, especially if you live in a wind prone area.

6. Avoid squirrel-favorite seeds on platform feeders

Want to be an immediate hit in your neighborhood with squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs, and other furry little creatures? Fill up a platform feeder with a birdseed mixture containing nuts, corn, or sunflowers, and stand back! Platform feeders are open on all four sides and low-to-the-ground, offering fantastic views of ground-feeding birds and any other creature that strolls on by. Some platform feeders can also hang off of a hook.

I love these types of feeders. But so do my squirrels (and our celebrity chipmunk Celeste and our pleasantly plump groundhog, Ms. March). The problem with using mixes with nuts, cracked or whole corn kernels, or sunflowers on your platform feeders, is that squirrels and other furry creatures will descend upon them like a free buffet. To reduce this seed-sapping traffic, you could try using alternate foods like safflower or white proso millet instead. You’ll still attract an exciting array of birds to your platforms but will limit or reduce squirrels.

Some platform feeders are enclosed by cages that only allow feathered guests to enter. While the concept appears sound, I’ve read mixed reviews online and would proceed with caution as these models are expensive. Some consumers report clever squirrels reach right in and grab the seeds from the platform, tip or shake the platform free of seed, or chew through the bars to get to the food.

7. Never coat bird poles or feeders with grease

Vaseline, WD-40, grease, homemade butters, and other slippery coatings may work to keep squirrel traffic down. Still, these remedies can be extremely harmful when they are either ingested or coat an animal’s fur or a bird’s feathers. You will find many blogs that recommend this method, but animal welfare groups and skilled ornithologists disagree. The Slinky method intrigues me, but then again, YouTube is filled with videos showing how squirrels outsmart one of my favorite vintage toys.

8. Avoid using hot birdseed or cayenne pepper

While there haven’t been scientific studies, “hot birdseed,” or birdseed with added capsaicin, the peppery ingredient that gives hot sauce its kick, has the potential to be harmful to both squirrels and birds. According to an excerpt at Audobon.org: “Use no additives in seed or nectar. Capsicum [the genus for hot peppers] irritates the eyes of humans and is likely to do so with birds as well. We do not recommend adding capsicum to birdseed.” Interestingly, they also caution that capsaicin is deadly to bees and other beneficial pollinators.

9. Create squirrel-friendly feeding zones

As an ardent backyard birder, I’ve employed a satellite feeder blueprint that seems to be working to keep competition down, traffic up and provides everyone who comes to visit a place to eat. Sure it needs a tweak now and then (especially when I get an over-enthusiastic flock of pigeons who decide my yard is their new Airbnb), but it has proven to be successful overall. At the outset, I will caution that results may vary. Observation and a willingness to experiment and adjust to your specific backyard conditions will lead you to better outcomes than an all-out surrender to the squirrels or the removal of your bird feeders altogether (don’t do that!)

In a nutshell, satellite feeders offer you a chance to spread the love of bird feeding generously. Perhaps you have a large platform feeder on your deck or patio with a good quality safflower seed to attract a wide variety of visitors. Sprinkle a tiny nyjer seed on that for an extra treat! Hang a mesh nyjer feeder on a shepherd’s hook in another spot in your yard. Are you feeling ambitious? You could add a large-capacity hopper feeder filled with black oil sunflower seeds or a hearty birdseed mix to a sturdy tree branch with an overhead baffle to deter squirrels. Hopper feeders are also great when attached to a quality baffled pole system.

Now work on creating a squirrel-friendly feeding area. There are plenty of squirrel specialty feeders that hold corn cobs, whole corn kernels, and peanuts – treats that squirrels love. While they’re chowing down at their boutique restaurant, your other backyard birds are enjoying their meals at your other feeders.

Don’t forget to add a water feature to the mix as well. A good bird bath will help supply essential hydration to both birds and your furry friends. The first time you see an adorable squirrel flop down to take a nap after a full belly and a drink of cool water are worth the effort it takes to make a space of their own in your yard.

Just want one feeder and limited squirrels? That’s fine, too. Remember that every contribution to your bird-friendly ecosystem is essential. To limit squirrels at your single feeder, try using a seed that squirrels generally avoid.

10. Avoid using “fling” feeders or shock devices

There are bird feeders from well-known manufacturers that “fling” squirrels off with centrifugal force when they try to grab a meal. Some folks swear by these., not so much. I think it’s cruel. Add to that list anything that will send an electrical shock into an animal. As a responsible backyard birder and steward to your ecosystem, your motto should always be, “do no harm.” We can co-exist with nature if we take sensible and humane approaches. Hurling a squirrel across a backyard or giving them a “harmless light shock” is no way to treat a creature that’s just looking for a bite to eat.

11. Accept that no feeder is 100% squirrel proof

As an avid researcher of backyard birding products, I love reading reviews about squirrel-proof feeders—especially the one-star ratings on Amazon that include photos and videos. You can learn a lot from other people’s experiences, and I do recommend you dig down into the one- and two-star reviews on product sites to do your due diligence before you buy.

Squirrels are very clever animals, especially when they’re hungry. Their antics are priceless – stretching, bending, leaping, and holding on for dear life to get a little food to eat. When you’re choosing that 100% guaranteed squirrel-proof feeder, do understand that the squirrels often win and win big. Consider that when budgeting because squirrel-proof models and their accessories can be costly. Invest instead in a suitable, chew-proof bird feeder, a baffle, and appropriate seeds if you’re entirely focused upon ridding your yard of squirrels.

P.S.: What tricks and tools do you use to keep your bird feeding areas healthy and clean?

Have an idea you’d like to share? Tell me more at [email protected].

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Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

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