Squirrels can really take the fun out of bird feeding. They are so clever and relentless that it sometimes seems they're smarter than most other animals. Here's how to thwart squirrels while still feeding the birds.
Bird Feeder Placement Is Key
Squirrels are impressive jumpers and are very acrobatic. This can create a bit of a challenge when trying to keep things out of their reach. Squirrels are able to rotate their feet 180 degrees. Their dexterity that makes them adaptable to almost any climbing situation.
The key to successfully keeping a bird feeder squirrel-proof is its placement. Feeders should be placed at least four feet above the ground and eight feet from any point from which squirrels can leap; squirrels are agile and are able to jump up to 8 feet horizontally and 4 feet vertically. This prevents the squirrels from leaping to the feeder from a nearby structure or jumping from the ground and grabbing onto the bottom. If you’re using a hook or a pole, we recommend that the hook have at least a 16-inch distance from the pole. It can also be helpful to trim back and prune any nearby bushes or branches within 12 feet of a feeder; squirrels will try every available angle to access food sources.
Keep the Bird Feeder Area Clean
Feeder station cleanliness is another great way to reduce the nuisance of squirrels. Keeping the area under a bird feeder clean by frequently clearing away excess dropped bird seed and old seed hulls will make your bird feeder station less enticing to hungry squirrels (and other pests).
Beyond the basics of placement and cleanliness, there are also many squirrel-proofing products available to help you protect your feeders from invading squirrels:
Baffle Squirrels with a Baffle
Baffles are designed with squirrel tactics in mind. Squirrels are able to stretch and twist around almost anything, but these dome diameters are engineered to be wide enough so that even the most determined squirrels can't defeat a properly placed squirrel baffle.
There are a variety of baffles that hang or pole-mount to accommodate all feeders and feeding stations. Hanging baffles tilt and shift with the movement of invading squirrels to knock their greedy paws right off—they can't get a strong footing on the smooth surface of the dome! When placed a foot below the feeder, a pole-mounted squirrel baffle will prevent squirrels from climbing straight up a pole to access the seed ports. Whichever baffle you choose, scheming squirrels will stop right in their tracks.
Feed Birds (Not Squirrels!) with Squirrel-Proof Feeders
If you're tired of trying to find clever ways to outsmart squirrels, bird feeders with squirrel-proof features will save you time and effort. Some squirrel-proof bird feeders are equipped with weight-sensitive features like a motorized spinning perch ring, collapsing perches, or a tilting seed tray that efficiently and quickly displaces squirrels and discourage them from returning. Others may have a built-in squirrel baffle to stop squirrels before they have even started.
Another great squirrel-proofing option is to use a caged feeder, either purchased as a complete unit or created by adding retrofit cages around your tube feeders. Choose products with sufficient distance between the cage and the food so they can't reach in.
Most squirrel-proof feeders on the market are for grey squirrels but not red squirrels. Since red squirrels are smaller in size and lighter in weight, they're often still able to access weight-sensitive and caged feeders.
Whether you are battling grey or red squirrels, one feature to keep in mind is the feeder height. Tall tube feeders with ports at the bottom prevent squirrels from hanging off the top of the feeder to access the ports.
Fighting the Good Fight
Squirrels can be tough adversaries to beat. You'll need to change your tactics and tricks as often as squirrels catch onto them. Since they are social animals and live in family groups, they can actually pass down their skills from generation to generation, with young squirrels imitating their elders to foil squirrel-proofing attempts. Some backyard birders simply appease the squirrels with separate feeders. That way, squirrels leave bird feeders and small birds alone.
Whatever option you choose, always keep in mind the safety of the animals involved; don't use any means that may harm the squirrels or backyard birds accidentally. Never grease poles. Grease can mat squirrels' fur or coat birds' feathers and cause serious injury. We would certainly discourage using any sort of projectile to deal with squirrel issues, as we wouldn't want anything to accidentally happen to the wildlife.
With this squirrel-proofing advice, we're confident that you will successfully thwart the squirrels! By taking safe but effective steps, birders can reduce or eliminate their presence at backyard bird feeders, making a happy habitat for everyone.