Love them or hate them, squirrels can be a nuisance; small birds are scared away from the feeder, expensive bird seed gets wasted and, more importantly squirrels can cause serious damage to our homes if encouraged to stay. So, just how do you keep squirrels from eating bird seed? Can we stop squirrels climbing bird feeders in the first place?
There are some tried and tested ways of preventing squirrels from stealing bird food, from baffles to squirrel proof feeders and from slinkies to chilli powder. Most methods work in some way but which are the most effective and which method will keep squirrels from eating your bird food? Here are five things you can try.
People have tried many ways to prevent squirrels getting to their bird seed. Some succeed, some fail and a lot of money is spent on purpose made squirrel busting products. However, the simplest and most effective way of beating the squirrels is often completely free, using common household items.
We must remember that squirrels are very intelligent creatures and they can quickly adapt to most situations to achieve their goal – free food! Let’s be smarter and more cunning than them. I’m going to take you through 5 tried and tested methods people use to beat squirrels at the bird feeder.
Squirrel Proof Bird Feeders
The first option most people go for is a squirrel proof bird feeder. But are they all they’re cracked up to be? There are two popular types of squirrel proof feeders – caged and sprung.
The caged variety is usually a seed, suet or nut feeder surrounded by a metal cage. This type is normally what people think of when it comes to squirrel proofing and generally suits most situations.
The gaps are large enough that small garden birds can fit through and feed in safety, however, the cage is sized so that squirrels and some larger birds are unable to put their heads through to feed on the food. The metal cage is chew-proof and often coated in a plastic material. This prevents corrosion and gives the feeder a nicer look and feel.
The other type of squirrel proof feeder that is becoming more popular is one that physically shuts off the feeding ports when a squirrel’s weight is introduced. They are good for larger birds like pigeons too.
They mostly look like a normal feeder but with a more robust design. A mechanism is built into the feeder that slides the outer cylinder or sleeve down over the feeding ports when something heavy enough climbs on. This is a weight activated mechanism and small birds that hardly weigh anything will not have an effect.
It is so important to keep your bird feeders clean. Read this post to learn more about when and how to clean yours. – Do Bird Feeders Need To Be Cleaned?
How Much Do Squirrel Proof Feeders Cost?
Squirrel proof feeders are sometimes more expensive than regular feeders but, you get what you pay for and if squirrels are something you don’t want at your bird feeders, it is worth a few extra pennies to give it a go.
For example, a basic nut feeder, like the Kingfisher Green Standard Bird Nut Feeder can be as cheap as £3. A caged one is going to be more than that, likely costing at least £6. For something more substantial, like the Squirrel Proof Hanging Caged Bird Nut Feeder Guard, expect to pay over £10.
Now, for the ‘Roll Royce’ of squirrel proof nut feeders, with weight activated shut off ports, you can expect to pay anything up to £180, depending on brand. Yes, I said £180! Check out this Droll Yankees Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder. It is the most expensive on Amazon right today.
Squirrel Proof Feeders Can Fail
I have noticed something about the caged feeders, which makes me think they are not that effective at all. I also wonder whether they are worth the extra money. A squirrel that could not get to the seed in my caged feeder worked out a simple trick. If he jumps on the feeder and shakes it hard enough, the seed will fall to the ground where he can collect it.
So, remember that a feeder can be tipped or swung on to dislodge and spill its contents. Luckily, my feeder is an old one but I would not be happy to have spent more money on a so-called squirrel proof feeder for a squirrel to cheat the system and just spill the seed.
My advice would be to go for a squirrel proof feeder that closes its ports under additional weight. That way a squirrel cannot be on it at the same time as tipping it – kind of impossible so it should work.
Which Are The Best Squirrel Proof Feeders?
I have looked at which squirrel busting feeders are available right now. In terms of value for money and customer feedback, the ones below are a good starting point. Spot the £181 price tag!!
Using Grease On A Bird Feeder Pole
Using some kind of grease on a bird feeder pole can be a very easy and inexpensive. The goal here is to make the pole of your bird feeding station as slippery as possible for a squirrel to climb.
While this is a cost-effective method it could be something you will need to repeat over time, making it less convenient. It is potentially going to be a messy job too.
It is also worth considering who else uses your garden. Pets and children may come into contact with the pole or brush against it, resulting in stained clothes or a pet transferring grease from the garden to the inside of your home.
Using a grease that is colourless and odourless will be best, rather than a brown automotive grease that stains. Anything that is slippery and able to withstand the elements should work.
Will Vaseline Keep Squirrels Off My Bird Feeder?
Vaseline is a brand name for a particular product called ‘petroleum jelly’. There are many companies providing this substance for many different lubrication-based uses but mainly skin care for infants, as well as adults. As people ask about using Vaseline on their bird feeder poles, let’s stick with that.
Vaseline is going to be a good option to try on your bird feeder but only on the pole itself. Feedback from people who have used Vaseline against squirrels report some success. They say it lasts in all weathers for a long time and you shouldn’t have to reapply it as often as you may think.
Vaseline is oil based and is waterproof, therefore it should stay in place and do it’s job even in wet weather. Vaseline is cheaper to buy, compared to other commercially available grease. Somewhere like Home Bargains or a pound shop may have alternatives for less money. I have found this one available on Amazon’s site – £2.33 for 226g.
How To Apply Vaseline To A Bird Feeder Pole
This is going to be up to you depending on what works best in your situation – cloth, hands, brush, for example. Choose a way that results in the least mess but the most effective coverage. My advice is to use a paint brush, rather than hands or a sponge.
By using a clean paint brush you will get a more even coverage with less mess to clean up afterwards. Keep the brush covered and available for reapplication as necessary.
You should not use Vaseline or other greasy products on a feeder where birds may come into contact with it. Grease and similar substances that smear can cause damage to a bird’s feathers. They are unable to clean grease and oil from their plumage and they will suffer.
How To Keep Squirrels Out Of Bird Feeders With A Slinky
This is possibly one of the most fun ways to stop squirrels getting to your bid seed. However, if they work out a way to get to the prize, you almost feel congratulations are in order and let them have a meal… or not!
The ‘Slinky’ is a child’s toy invented in the United States during the 1940’s. It is basically a long helical metal spring that stretches and reforms under gravity. It’s quite a cool thing to play with but using a slinky as a squirrel deterrent has become a common thing amongst people with bird feeder poles like shepherds hooks.
How To Attach A Slinky To A Shepherds Hook
First of all, you need to know how to install a slinky on your bird feeder. You may need to be creative here, unless your pole gives you an easy hook point. This is not a complicated setup but be mindful of a squirrel’s weight (I checked – an adult grey squirrel weighs in at 400g – 600g). If your slinky isn’t held on securely it is likely to just fall off as soon as anything heavy enough pulls on it.
How To Install A Slinky On A Bird Feeder
With a shepherds hook type arrangement, you are unlikely to be able to slide the slinky down from the top of the feeder. The best way around this is to slide the slinky over the pole from the bottom. This may mean you have to remove the pole from the ground in order to do so.
Of course, if your pole comes apart in sections do that instead; it saves you having to remove a firmly sited, upright pole. Either way, slide the slinky over the pole from the bottom end.
Once you have slid your slinky on to the pole, find a junction point where the hooks come away from the pole. Or there may be a lug or protruding joint the slinky can hook over. Firmly hook the slinky over one of these and let it hang to the ground. Give it a tug to make sure its firmly attached.
A few tips:
- Don’t allow the slinky to hang all the way to the ground. Don’t even let it get near the ground. The ideal height for the bottom of the slinky is two feet or over. The reason for this is to help stop them from jumping straight on to the slinky, which will allow them to begin their awkward climb to the top. If they have to climb up the pole to get on to the slinky they suddenly fall very quickly to the ground and will usually jump off.
- If your feeder is near a tree, fence or any other easy launch point, consider moving your feeder away from these. A squirrel will easily jump from a nearby object straight on to the feeder, making the slinky completely pointless.
Another Type of Slinky
An alternative to a regular style slinky is this – the Droll Yankees RLS Squirrel Slinky. This clever device is a more discrete method of using the mechanics of a slinky. The slinky spring is housed within a short length of tube, which slides over a shepherd’s hook type feeding pole.
When a squirrel climbs the pole and gets to the spring suspended tube, it’s weight causes it to drop quickly toward the ground. Similar to the regular slinky, this can deter many squirrels from persisting. However, prices vary a great deal so shop around before you buy.
It is also worth reading a few reviews first because some users report these as being ineffective against less timid squirrels. At first a squirrel is startled by the instability of the pole but can often learn to overcome this minor setback. In my mind all a squirrel has to do is hang for long enough until the spring stabilises, then continue to climb up while it is under tension. I think methods such as these rely on the shock factor – something that can often be overcome. If you want to try one, it is also available here, at a fraction of the price.
There are many reports of success after using a regular slinky against squirrels. The following video shows an effective deployment of a slinky on a bird feeder pole. There is nowhere for the squirrel to jump from that is high enough for them to mount the slinky directly. This means they have to climb up from ground level (or in this case the fence) and at the point of transfer on to the slinky the squirrel falls quickly downwards. This startles the squirrel enough that it gives up on that attempt.
Unfortunately, a slinky is not a guaranteed solution with a 100% success rate. Depending on how high your feeders are and if a squirrel can launch itself from a high enough point, they can cling on and keep climbing the slinky until it is at full stretch. Then it becomes more like a slightly awkward ladder, allowing them to climb up to the food.
How Far Can Squirrels Jump To A Bird Feeder?
As it is important to place your bird feeders away from any launch points for squirrels, you might want to know just how far a squirrel can jump.
In one of the videos above you see squirrels jumping from a table to a feeder, which is about a metre away. It is widely held that a squirrel can jump up to 2.4 – 2.7 metres (8 – 9 feet) horizontally and just over a metre (4 feet) vertically.
This is why you must place your feeders at least these distances from any fence, tree, shed or other suitable point from which a squirrel can jump.
Using Squirrel Baffles On Bird Feeders
If you have been searching for ways to stop squirrels invading your bird feeder, you may have heard of something called a baffle. There are two main types of baffle to use on bird feeders – dome and tubular.
The difference between types of baffle allow them to be used in certain situations. The main feature of a baffle is the smooth, shiny surface which prevents a squirrel being able to grip and climb. So, even if a squirrel can climb the feeder pole, it will not be able to get over a baffle half way up under the feeders.
Where Do You Put A Squirrel Baffle?
A squirrel baffle will be located differently depending on the type of feeder you have. If you have a pole feeder, the baffle will be fixed either at the base of the pole or half way up before the feeders. You can use either a dome baffle or a tubular baffle.
If you don’t use a pole and have a feeder hanging from a tree branch or other object, a baffle can be attached above the feeder. This option will require a dome baffle.
These are examples of dome baffles. You can see how a dome can be used either above or below the feeders to suit your hanging method. The domes are large enough to make it difficult for an average squirrel to leap around it from below.
They are shaped so as to prevent a squirrel gripping on to any edge or join in order to gain any balance whatsoever. These are good products to consider buying if you want to stop squirrels getting to bird seed. They are likely to cost you £10 upwards for something decent. You can see the latest prices and availability over at Amazon.
You might prefer to save a few pennies and make your own dome shaped baffle. You will just need to find something of a similar shape with a smooth, slippery surface. My first thoughts would be a large plastic salad bowl – smooth, slippery and about the right size. Maybe a large metal mixing bowl will work; you just need to cut a hole and attach it somehow and may need some tools to do this.
A tubular shaped squirrel baffle is designed to slide over a bird feeding station pole. It can either be planted at the base of the pole to prevent a squirrel even beginning to make a climb. Or, it can be situated between the ground and the feeders.
By having the baffle half way up the pole it is even more difficult for a squirrel to negotiate because it must get from the pole to the outside of the baffle with a smooth surface – no chance! Even if they continue to climb and get up inside the baffle they will not get any further as it is closed off at the top.
There are not many tubular squirrel baffles around but I have found a few. They will generally cost you upwards of £10. The Woodlink Audubon Torpedo Steel Squirrel Baffle is one that I would consider. It is made from metal and will fit most bird feeder poles. It comes with a clamp for easy and secure fixing. The reviews speak for themselves.
Again, this is something you can easily make for yourself but getting the right material is important. A common object that most people use for a DIY squirrel baffle is a section of down pipe (round drain pipe).
As long as it is between four and six inches in diameter with a smooth outer surface it will do the trick. You will need to close off the top some how and source a bracket or clip to mount it. Another idea is to use a piece of plastic or stainless steel pipe. You can hang the pipe with elastic or loose springs. When a squirrel climbs on to the pipe it falls downward as well as being too slippery to climb.
What Can You Put In Bird Seed To Keep Squirrels Away?
So far we have looked at physical attachments and products we can add to our feeder to stop the squirrels. Other than the grease idea, these are kind of ‘fire and forget’ methods (once you implement them, they don’t need reapplying or adjusting). However, they can look ugly.
If you don’t want to add any physical objects to your feeder and you are looking for another practical solution, you can add chilli flakes or other hot pepper-based products to your bird seed. Using cayenne pepper in bird seed will help to keep squirrels away.
Mammals, often including humans, don’t like food that is too hot. I don’t mean temperature hot but spicy hot! Enter the capsicum…
Chilli flakes, chilli powder, cayenne pepper all come from the same family of plant – the capsicum, or pepper as we more commonly know it. The chemical in a pepper that causes its heat is called capsaicin (pronounced “cap-SAY-a-sin”). It is this chemical that triggers our heat receptors and causes us discomfort.
There is a scale called the Scoville Scale that measures the heat rating of chilli peppers and other spicy foods; from the mild bell pepper to the fiery chilli pepper. Squirrels feel the heat just as we do.
Does Cayenne Pepper Keep Squirrels Away From Bird Seed?
People mention cayenne pepper a lot when discussing how to deter squirrels. I think this is because it comes in powder form, is relatively cheap and readily available. I have used cayenne pepper in my bird seed and it seems to have some effect.
It doesn’t really matter which form of hot chilli you use; red pepper, chilli powder, chilli flakes, peri-peri sauce, curry powder, Tabasco and cayenne pepper all seem to work. There have been some concern that using hot chilli against squirrels causes them ill health and can be inhumane.
There are reports of squirrels gnawing off their own paws due to being unable to tolerate the reaction to the heat. Rest assured, there is no proof that I have found that squirrels suffer as a result of coming into contact with hot pepper. Whilst it causes us some discomfort, the effects soon wear off and we learn to avoid whatever it was we touched or ate.
Is Cayenne Pepper Safe For Birds?
Cayenne pepper and any other type of capsaicin-based product will not harm birds at all. They do not have the same sense of taste or smell as mammals do. Birds are not affected in any way by chilli powder mixed in with their food. This is why it is such a good way of feeding the birds without squirrels interfering.
A point to remember is that using something mixed in with bird seed means you will need to physically do this every time you refill your feeders. It can be time consuming and become inconvenient after time. This is why many prefer a one-time application of a baffle or slinky. Just saying…
I couldn’t end this post without sharing this great video from Mark Rober on YouTube. It is quite long but very much worth the wait.
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE A SQUIRREL!