Bird Notes from West Houston

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Birdfeeding Tips - Squirrels

Squirrels. There are basically three attitudes people have about squirrels. They love them. They hate them. They say they hate them, but when it comes down to it, they don't mind them all that much. Whatever your attitude about squirrels is, you probably see them at your feeders if you live in a wooded habitat. When the squirrels are on the feeder, no birds are. So what can you do?

There are several ways to keep the squirrels off your feeders. The easiest way is to baffle your feeders. For any baffle to be effective, there needs to be an eight foot radius (sixteen foot diameter) around your feeders from which there is nothing a squirrel can jump sideways. Those things include your house, fence, trees, picnic table, patio furniture, birdbaths, bushes, etc., etc., etc. The average squirrel can jump 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 feet horizontally and four feet vertically. If you have the spacing, use a baffle. There are many varieties of baffles for both pole-mounted feeders and hanging feeders. The top of the baffle on pole-mounted feeders or the bottom of the feeders if the feeders are hung needs to be 4 1/2 feet off the ground to prevent squirrels from jumping from the ground and getting around the baffle.

If you do not have the spacing to baffle your feeders, don't give up hope! There are other options. One would be going with a squirrel-resistant feeder. There are many models on the market and some are more effective than others. The best one I know of is the Wild Birds Unlimited Eliminator. If it is hung at least 16 inches from a pole or tree, it has been the most effective feeder at keeping squirrels out. If you want some entertainment while befuddling the squirrels, you might consider The Yankee Flipper. The Flipper has a motorized perch that spins when the squirrel puts his weight on it. It can be hilarious to watch!

If you cannot baffle and do not like the squirrel-resistant feeders, there is always safflower. Safflower is a very nutritious seed for birds and is liked by cardinals, House Finches, chickadees, titmice, doves and others. Squirrels do not like the taste of safflower. Probably 90% of squirrels will leave it alone, especially if a squirrel feeder is provided for them. There have been those squirrels that seem to develop a taste for safflower, though.

Some people use capsicum powder to keep the squirrels out. While it may work, I cannot recommend it. The first reason is I've heard people say that their squirrels develop a taste for it eventually. The second reason is there is some debate on the effect of capsicum on the digestive system of birds. It has not been proven safe for birds. Thirdly, I am concerned about the powder being blown into the eyes of birds at the feeder by another bird flying in which would cause considerable irritation. Lastly, I knew a lady who put it in her seed and inhaled some of the dust even though she was wearing a mask. She spent nearly two weeks in the hospital with pneumonia brought on by breathing the dust. Even though capsicum might be effective, I would strongly caution anyone against using it.

Squirrels are interesting animals to watch. Their intelligence and creativity in figuring out how to get to feeders is astonishing sometimes. While they can be a nuisance sometimes, they are very interesting animals to have in your yard. Watch their behavior and enjoy their antics!

- Paul


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