Backyard Squirrel Wars

By Howard Youth

BATTLING BACKYARD squirrels takes tenacity, patience, and ingenuity.

If you get complacent, squirrels, like dust or dirty dishes, will be back in force. Below are 11 strategies for thwarting the furry gluttons and keeping them from your bird feeders. One strategy might work for you, or you might want to employ several. But remember: Anticipate your enemy’s actions, expect the unexpected… and be ready to try a new tactic.

1. DISTRACT THEM–One strategy to lure squirrels from your feeder is to provide more tantalizing food for them nearby. There are diversion feeders with metal spikes that hold corncobs, and other special feeders just for squirrels. And then there’s the simple “dump and draw” method: Drop seed on the ground away from the feeder they are raiding. This will not keep squirrels from visiting your feeder, but if you provide a constant ground supply, it will keep many distracted. Keep in mind that squirrels have favorite foods, including corn, peanuts, and sunflower seeds, and that squirrels will more readily take the most easily accessible food.

2. BAFFLE THEM FROM BELOW–If you can’t stand the squirrels dominating and gnawing on your feeders, there are several types of baffles you can install. Baffles are basically collars around your feeder post that keep squirrels from climbing up to the feeder. (See “Baffle Your Squirrels” below.) Post baffles can be very effective in repelling squirrels, as long as the feeder is placed well away from tree limbs, roofs, or other potential launching surfaces. Caution: Do not place your feeder so far from cover that you discourage birds from visiting!

3. BAFFLE THEM FROM ABOVE–Plastic dome baffles can be hung just above most hanging feeders. As long as your feeder and baffle are hung far enough from the nearest squirrel launching point, you should be able to keep squirrels at bay. Old vinyl records, hubcaps, metal mixing bowls, and the like can serve the same purpose if you don’t want to buy a baffle.

4. PUT THEM ON A DIET–Like people, squirrels have favorite foods (peanuts, peanut butter, etc.). Avoid offering these if you want to discourage your agile neighbors somewhat, and they will probably spend less time eating in your backyard. Unfortunately, squirrels love sunflower seed and other bird seeds, and will chew up thistle feeders, too. So this tactic should be used in combination with others unless you’re willing to make great sacrifices.

5. CHALLENGE THEM–If a feeder is accessible to squirrels but not as easy to reach as, say, your neighbor’s feeder, squirrels might not be a nuisance to you. I feed chickadees and titmice at the zoo with a satellite-shaped feeder “protected” by a plastic baffle that hangs just above the feeder. Squirrels hop onto the baffle, hang by their hind legs, and reach in for the seed, but not often. Perhaps the millions of zoo visitors a short hop away provide more tempting morsels, but that’s not the only reason. The squirrels have hogged every other feeder I’ve put out. They seem too lazy to expend the energy to get at so few seeds.

–If you hang your feeders from a clothesline, string the clothesline with cylindrical objects, such as spools, cans, beads, or film canisters. Depending on the situation, this method may thwart squirrels temporarily. Perfecting this technique can be as much of a challenge for you as it is for the squirrel. But some people report good results, especially if thin line, such as strong fishing line, is used instead of thicker wires or ropes.

7. CAGE THEM OUT–Squirrel proof feeders covered in coated metal mesh are now available. But beware: squirrels unable to reach food often resort to Plan B: pulling off the top of the feeder. Check the feeder carefully before you buy to make sure the top will be secure. The mesh cage around the feeder should extend far enough to prevent squirrels from reaching in and grabbing seeds. You can also cage in an old feeder with coated wire fencing or chicken wire.

8. RELOCATE THEM–If you enjoy catching animals, you can live-trap squirrels in Havahart-type traps and transport them far from home. There is a downside, though; inevitably other squirrels will take the place of those removed. In rare instances where homes are located in areas with sparse squirrel populations, this tactic may be effective. This method can also work if you just want to remove one or two individual squirrels. But check with your local game warden first: some areas have laws prohibiting relocations due to the risk of introducing diseased animals to unaffected populations.

9. BARBED BARRIERS–Carefully sited clusters of sharp spikes can be installed around launching points and on feeders to discourage squirrels. A product called Nixalite, manufactured in East Moline, Illinois, comes in metal strips of spikes. These strips can be installed on top of and around your feeder, at the risk of making your backyard look like a war zone. If you choose to use this method, be careful not to place the spikes where other animals, including birds and human beings, might accidentally fall or step on them.

10. CHEMICALS–Much has been written about slathering feeder poles with petroleum jelly, grease, or peppery concoctions to discourage squirrels. Some people even spray Teflon on poles. These measures are temporary at best, and wash off or cake up. Reportedly, some squirrels even prefer pepper-treated seed over untreated seed. While these can be considered for temporary use, the use of chemicals on animals that use their paws to handle food might not be humane, depending on the substance.

11. SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP–Bird-feeder manufacturers face the same problems you do, except it’s their business. That does not mean, however, that every allegedly squirrel-proof feeder is just that. Shop carefully, and ask advice from grizzled veterans you know.– Bird Watcher’s Digest