Squirrels Are the Most Fed and Observed Animals

THE GREY SQUIRREL–is the most common squirrel in North America. Its habit of gathering and storing food for the winter has allowed the species to survive for more than 35 million years.

Their teeth are constantly growing to compensate for wear, so squirrels keep them “filed down” by constantly chewing. They even grind their teeth while they are sleeping! And contrary to the opinion of some birders, a squirrel’s stomach is not a bottomless pit. They need about a pound of food per week and enjoy a varied diet of bugs, nuts, fruit and seeds.

Ecologically, squirrels are important re-seeders of trees and woodland plants, busily burying their stash of nuts and seeds in preparation for winter. A squirrel can hide as many as 10,000 nuts each fall and can find his buried food under as much as a foot of winter snow.

Some of these nuts and seeds are not retrieved and grow into plants in the spring. Squirrels’ winter survival is dependent on remembering where he has deposited his caches. And what’s fascinating is that the portion of his brain that controls memory actually grows by 15% in fall; so squirrels really do remember where they stored all those nuts–and where your bird feeders are.

Baby squirrels weigh approximately one ounce at birth and are only about an inch long. They do not have hair or teeth and are virtually blind for six to eight weeks. A common misconception about squirrels is that they hibernate during the winter. While true that squirrels are rarely seen during extreme cold, this is because they remain near their nest where it is warm.

An interesting fact about squirrels is that the adult male squirrel is the cleanest member of the rodent family. It should also be said that the male does not play a role in raising the young. This may explain why they have more time for cleanliness.

Squirrels can jump a distance of up to 20 ft. They have long, muscular hind legs and short front legs that work together to aid in leaping. The hind legs of squirrels are double-jointed. This helps them run up and down trees quickly.

A male squirrel can smell a female in heat up to a mile away. Mating season is February through May with a 44-day gestation period. Typically 2 to 4 young are born per litter. Squirrels have 5 toes on their back feet and 4 toes on their front. Their front toes are very sharp and help in gripping tree bark for climbing.

In addition to residing in the Eastern US, Eastern Gray Squirrels can be found in many Western states, Great Britain, Ireland and South Africa. Squirrels in general are found on every continent except Antarctica and Australia.

Squirrels can eat their own body weight every week, and can fall up to 100 ft. without hurting themselves. They’ll use their tail both for balance and as a parachute. The word “squirrel” means “shadow tail” in Greek. The hibernating arctic ground squirrel is the only warm-blooded mammal able to withstand body temperatures below freezing. Squirrels eyes are positioned in such a way that they can see some things behind them.

These little furry critters may be your friend or your foe, but after reading these fascinating facts about squirrels, you will have to admit they are very interesting!

1. Did you know that there are more than 365 species of squirrels in the world?

2. 40% of all the mammals in the world are in the squirrel family.

3. The smallest squirrel is the African Pygmy. They are 5 inches long from their heads to the tip of their tails. They are found in Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon.

4. The largest squirrel is the Ratufa. It can be as long as 3 feet in length. This beauty is found in Asia and Nepal.

5. Squirrels have been known to live as long as 20 years in captivity. Our Common Gray squirrel lives an average of 5 years in the wild, if they are lucky enough to survive their first year.

6. The squirrel has a brain about the size of a walnut.

7. Squirrels can run as fast as 20 miles per hour.

8. The oldest known squirrel skeleton is over 50 million years old.

9. Lafayette Park in Washington, DC has the largest concentration of squirrels in the United States.

10. President Ronald Reagan loved the squirrels at the White House so much that he commissioned an artist to paint a squirrel running across the White House lawn for the Presidential Christmas Card.

11. If a squirrel’s nest is high in a tree, it is called a drey. A squirrel’s nest in a hollow tree is called a den.

As you can see, these little creatures have been a part of our world for a long time and being the adaptable animals they are, will surely survive well into the future. So, we must learn to live with them, laugh at them and love them for what they are!

How To Choose a Squirrel Proof Birdfeeder
With so many bird feeders claiming to be squirrel proof, how do you choose the one that’s right for you?

Here we will describe the basic types of squirrel proof feeders and how they work.  Keep in mind that squirrel proof doesn’t mean that a squirrel won’t try to get on the feeder. It means that in the majority of cases, the squirrel won’t be able to damage the feeder, or get food from it.

Hanging vs. Pole Mounted Feeders
Pole mounted feeders are generally easier to defend than hanging feeders. Pole mounting solves a lot of problems inherent in hanging feeders, as long as the feeder is located at least 10 ft. away from trees, fences or other places a squirrel can jump from and at least 5 ft. up. Squirrels can jump about 5 ft., straight off the ground!

Usually a simple post baffle can be used to prevent squirrels from climbing the pole to the feeder. When you pole mount your feeder correctly, you can be less concerned about having a squirrel proof feeder, because squirrels shouldn’t be able to get on the feeder at all.  However, a squirrel proof feeder that is pole mounted is generally an unbeatable combination.

When a feeder is hung from a tree or shepherds hook, squirrels will likely be able to get on the feeder. Even if they cannot get to the seed, they will tip it so seed pours out, chew any plastic parts, or possibly knock it down.  If you plan to hang your feeder, look for feeders that have little or no plastic parts exposed, or choose an all metal, chew proof feeder. Plan to hang it so that squirrels cannot defeat the squirrel proofing mechanisms; that is, if the feeder has a weighted perch system, make sure the squirrel can’t just reach over from a handy tree branch and avoid the perch altogether. Also consider how the hanger will attach to the branch. Choose a sturdy branch that won’t break and if necessary, add hardware to be sure the squirrel can’t pull the feeder off.

Caged Feeders
A common squirrel proof feeder has a stationary cage with a central plastic tube. The grid prevents squirrels from entering the feeder, reaching in for the seed or chewing the tube. They usually are 8 to 10 inches in diameter which helps to keep out troublesome black birds as well as squirrels, while allowing smaller birds to enter the grid.  Look for those with some sort of lock to prevent squirrels from lifting the filler cap. These feeders are offered as regular mixed seed feeders or for Nyjer seed. 

Other squirrel proof caged feeders are set up with a smaller grid that even small birds cannot enter, but they can reach in to the seed. These feeders usually have a metal mesh tube with no perches and are meant for sunflower seed only. Both types of feeders work well when hung or post mounted, and are quite affordable. Another benefit is that there are no moving parts to break.  Unfortunately these feeders cannot accommodate birds such as cardinals, blue jays, grosbeaks, woodpeckers, doves and other large birds.

Moveable Caged Feeders
These feeders are much like stationary caged feeders in appearance but usually have a narrower profile. This is because they discriminate based on weight and don’t need a large space between the caging and the tube to keep squirrels out. When a squirrel climbs onto the caging, their weight causes the caging to drop down. When this happens, a small grid or cover comes into position over the feeding ports. As long as the squirrel stays on the feeder, the ports remain blocked.

The feeders usually have springs that can be adjusted to work with the smallest squirrels.  Some larger birds can use these feeders, but a bird as big as a dove might find difficulty with the small perches as would a cardinal. When adjusted correctly, these feeders might help to keep starlings and grackles off as well. Some can be pole mounted as well as hung and are priced in the low to mid range.

Weighted Perch Feeders
Some larger hopper feeders offer the flexibility of adjusting the perch so that you can decide what weight bird will be able to use the feeder. Usually a spring adjustment trips the perch, causing it to drop down and bring a door over the seed whenever a bird or animal of a certain weight gets on the perch. Common types have three weight settings, for light birds only, light and medium birds, or light, medium and heavy birds. Even the heavy bird setting will trip when a squirrel gets on.

These feeders are nice if you like to feed cardinals and blue jays (medium setting), or even doves (heavy setting), because they have a long, sturdy perch.  These feeders are all metal and very rugged. They can be either hung or post mounted. Because they tend to be heavy and the hoppers hold a lot of seed, you would probably want to use a ground socket cemented in the ground to support the feeder on a pole. They are generally priced in the mid to high range.

Drawbacks are that sometimes the springs break (but can usually be replaced) and sometimes a larger squirrel can access the seed by hanging down from the top of the feeder where it doesn’t have to touch the perch. However, if properly pole mounted, squirrels will not be able to get on the feeder and you can use the feeder to discriminate against unwanted large birds such as blackbirds, pigeons and doves.

Weighted perches can also be found on long hanging tube feeders. The perches are situated at the bottom of the tube and some are equipped with adjustable perches that can be moved out to accommodate larger birds, or even optional attachments for cardinals.  Larger birds such as pigeons and doves would have difficulty with the perches if no adjustments or attachments were used. Hang these feeders in a location where squirrels can’t defeat the perch mechanism simply by reaching out from a convenient tree limb.

Double Grid System Feeders
Another method to keep squirrels’ paws out of the seed is with two horizontal grids set in a hopper or platform feeder that are placed about one inch on top of the other. The seed is kept below the bottom grid. The top grid allows birds beaks to reach through, but it is too small for a squirrel’s paw to reach in.

These feeders can be hung or post mounted and prices range from low to mid level, depending on the style you choose. A benefit of these types of feeders is that they allow all birds to feed, and the platform style is very appealing to cardinals. Don’t expect these types of feeders to keep out grackles, starlings, doves or other commonly unwanted birds. These feeders are available in all metal or plastic. Plastic feeders are economical, but are prone to being chewed by squirrels.

Battery Operated Squirrel Proof Feeders

The most prevalent battery operated feeders are those that have a spinning perch that flips squirrels off, or those that will issue a slight jolt of electricity when a squirrel makes a complete circuit between a feeder tray and a perch.

In the spinning type, a circular perch is located at the bottom of a hanging tube feeder. When a squirrel gets on the perch, its weight activates a motor which causes the perch to spin, making it impossible for the squirrel to stay on. These feeders utilize a rechargeable battery and come with a charging device. All birds can use this feeder, since none weigh enough to trip the spinning mechanism.  Although expensive, these are very effective squirrel proof feeders. They cannot be pole mounted.

Feeders that use a jolt of electricity are also expensive but equally effective. A metal feeding tray is located at the bottom of the feeder and wired to a 9 volt battery. Metal perches are also wired to the battery. When a squirrel lands on the tray and reaches up for the seed ports, his body makes a complete connection to the battery and causes a mild electric shock. The squirrel quickly jumps off!

These feeders can be pole mounted or hung. Now that you know the basic types of squirrel proof bird feeders, consider these questions before you make a decision on which one to buy:

  • Do you plan to pole mount or hang the feeder?
  • How bad is the squirrel problem?
  • How much can you afford?
  • Do you want to discriminate against certain birds as well as squirrels, or should the feeder accommodate all the birds?

Good luck in your war against the squirrels!