The buzz

Has your bird feeder become a squirrel feeder? Here are some ideas to keep those rascals away

A squirrel hanging from a feeder
(Photo via Shutterstock)

Ask a backyard birder how to keep squirrels off your feeders and they'll tell you it's a fool's errand. No matter what kind of feeder you use or squirrel deterrent you install, the squirrels will find a way to get to the food.

Squirrels are crafty and agile, making them especially adept at getting to the food in your bird feeders despite efforts to the contrary. And just about any type of seed is a natural and normal part of their diet, so the food you stock in your feeders is just what they are looking for. But there are a few ways to discourage these critters from turning your bird seed into an all-you-can-eat squirrel buffet. 

The best way to prevent squirrels from eating bird food is to install bird feeders on poles in open areas, the National Audubon Society advises. Place the pole at least 10 feet from trees, shrubs, fences or other tall structures that squirrels can jump from, and put the feeder about 5 feet off the ground. 

If pesky squirrels keep finding their way to your feeders, try installing cone-shaped baffles, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology advises. Baffles should be at least 18 inches in diameter. Where to install them depends on what type of feeder you have and where it is located. If your feeders are near trees and other tall structures where squirrels can jump onto them, place baffles over the feeders. If your feeders are on poles in the ground, install the baffle under the feeders, so they can't climb the poles to get the food.

You can also buy poles for bird feeders that are specially designed to beat the squirrels at their own game. Look for poles that come with "squirrel spookers," the Cornell Lab advises. These "spookers" are plastic sleeves at the top of the pole. When the squirrels inevitably figure out how to climb the pole and reach the plastic sleeve, it will fall to the bottom of the pole, bringing the squirrel with it. Once the squirrel falls off the sleeve, it moves back up to the top of the pole.

You can buy feeders that are designed not to let squirrels access the tasty seed inside. Tube feeders made from wire mesh are good for small seeds like nyjer (also called thistle seed), and the openings in the mesh may be too small for squirrels to get the food out of. You can also look for feeders that have doors with counterweights installed on them. The doors will stay open, allowing access to the seed, when lightweight birds pay a visit, but when heavier critters arrive the doors will close, keeping the bird seed safely stored inside.

The type of food you offer the birds may also be attracting squirrels. They love corn and peanuts especially, but if you want to try to keep them at bay you may want to try offering safflower or nyjer seed, both of which they are less fond of, according to the Humane Society of the United States. If you use seed mixes, look for seed mixes containing a lot of white proso millet seed.


Desperate as you may be to keep the squirrels off your feeders, there are a few things to avoid. Don't put anything sticky on or around the feeders. This may prevent squirrels from getting to the food, but it can also injure the birds, the Humane Society reports.

The same thing goes for greasing the pole your feeder sits upon. The oil and grease can mat down the fur and feathers of squirrels and birds, causing them to lose their insulating ability, and they could freeze to death, according to the Cornell Lab.

In addition, avoid bird foods containing capsaicin, a chili pepper extract. Bird seed with added capsaicin is commercially available, and birds do not feel the effects of the capsaicin. But it will irritate a squirrel's mouth, which may make it less likely to visit your feeders. However, these products cause unnecessary harm and discomfort to the squirrels, according to the Humane Society. Similarly, do not use bird feeders that include an electrical component to shock squirrels and unwanted visitors. 

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