Got Squirrels? Expert Tips for Coping… or Conceding
By Tom Long
Fiddlehead Contributing Editor
Consider for a moment the lowly squirrel, the acrobatic arbor-dwelling rodent is as common as grass. Some call them “skwerls,” others call them “skwirrells.” We call them thieves.
No matter what you call the bulbous-eyed, black-hearted buggers you have to admit they’re experts at cadging a free meal at backyard bird feeders.
“Countless backyards are battlegrounds between determined avian-loving homeowners and squirrels fighting over bird food. No mammal is as competent at achieving their goal ready to defy every design, every device and every technology intended to keep them from consuming sunflower seeds, peanuts and corn,” according to “Wild Neighbors,” a publication of the Humane Society of the United States.
Gene Harrington, who conducts seminars on backyard bird feeding at the Nashua Farmers Exchange, which he co-owns with his wife, Judy Ratta-Harrington, has given the subject a lot of thought.
“The first question asked at the seminars is usually ‘how can I keep squirrels away from my feeder?’” he said. “I tell them there are several things they can do to dissuade them. First, it’s important to keep in mind that squirrels can jump about 10 feet so make sure your feeder is that far away from your house, a shrub, fence or tree,” said Harrington, who holds degrees in wildlife biology and entomology.
The next thing to consider is a baffle, an umbrella or tube-shaped obstacle that can be added to a stand or feeder to impede access. A simple one may be made from an empty one-liter soda bottle.
“A clothesline setup can work, too,” Harrington said, “just suspend the feeder from the line, but make sure it is 10 feet away from a branch or house.
“Or you might look at a setup designed to reduce the ability of the squirrel to feed,” he said, and suggested the Yankee Flipper or the Squirrel Buster models.
New squirrel exclusion devices are appearing on store shelves all the time. Some with Rube Goldberg-like devices that use counterbalanced baffles that close the feeder openings when an animal as heavy as a squirrel comes to feed. Others have external cages with openings so small that squirrels cannot get at them.
If you’re looking for a laugh, Duncraft’s Squirrel Buster Plus has a video on YouTube that is worth checking out. It has talking rodents recommending the feeder that is said to be squirrel-proof and dishwasher-safe.
Or you might make the bird feed less appetizing to the acrobatic seed thieves. The Humane Society suggests seeds less palatable to the furry freeloaders. For instance, “safflower seed (which attracts species such as cardinals, chickadees and titmice), nyjer thistle (which nourishes goldfinches and others of their kind) or a birdseed mixture that includes a large amount of white proso millet seed (which satisfies the hunger of mourning doves and house finches).”
And if you’re still frustrated, you might consider chemical warfare.
“Squirrels have lips, but birds do not, so an extract of hot pepper can make it uncomfortable for them,” Harrington said.
He said he’s had customers report that they’ve seen the squirrel eat the pepper and race across the yard to get a drink from a bird bath. Sweet revenge for the bird feeder.
There is also a commercial product called Fire Mix that may be added to bird seed.
In case you’re thinking of kidnapping the little buggers, forget it. “Live-trapping squirrels and taking them to the woods, where they will live happily ever after, is not the ideal solution to local problems,” according to “Wild Neighbors.” Studies show that few squirrels may survive the move. And when a squirrel is removed from a yard, another squirrel will move in, sometimes within a few days.
You might want to consider what you have against squirrels anyway? The rodents are cute, furry and can be fun to watch as they perform their acrobatic approach to suspended feeding stations. They’re only doing what comes naturally. Who’s not tempted by a free meal? There’s even a squadron of feathered diners waving their wings to alert them to the buffet.
Consider expanding the menu to accommodate the redoubtable rodents, then enjoy their hijinks along with their feathered friends.
“There is always the option of feeding the squirrels,” said Harrington. “Open a tray feeder low to the ground so the squirrels can get their fill. If they’re well fed, they are less likely to raid a bird feeder.”