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Learn how to keep squirrels away from bird feeders with tips from Virginia horticulturalists

Learn how to keep squirrels away from bird feeders with tips from Virginia horticulturalists

Terry Lautzenheiser laughs when she thinks about the extreme lengths to which she and her husband, John, have gone to keep squirrels away from their bird feeder.

They tried hanging it high off their elevated screened porch, which was inconvenient to squirrels, but the Lautzenheisers couldn’t access it without dragging out a big ladder.

So John Lautzenheiser devised a workaround. “He cut a window within the screen itself that he can open and shut,” explained Terry, the horticulture technician for Virginia Cooperative Extension in Henrico County. Opening the custom window, John reaches out with a specially-made hanger to take the feeder down for refilling.

“He’s an engineer,” she chuckled. “It’s been funny.”

Outsmart the squirrels

From elaborate obstacle courses to spinning bungee-jumping apparatuses, people have invented hilariously ingenious ways to keep squirrels out of bird feeders.

Backyard birders get frustrated when their feathered friends are pushed away by squirrels. Additionally, purchasing pricey, specialty birdseed only to have squirrels dominate the feeder is money down the drain.

Some bird feeders are made specifically to keep squirrels out. Lautzenheiser said she bought her feeder for its weight-sensitive closing mechanism—birds are light enough to perch, but a squirrel’s heavier weight triggers the seed ports to close.

“That’s what’s worked best for us,” she said.

Horticulturalist Mark Viette went a different route and customized his bird feeder using plastic-coated chicken wire he purchased from a hardware store.

“You can make a box and put it over the feeder,” he explained. The holes are just large enough for birds to get into, but too small for squirrels.

Viette also added a separate feeder just for squirrels that he placed 100 to 200 feet away from the others.

“Squirrel feed tends to be inexpensive and is based more with a mixture of sunflower, corn and other foods,” he said. “Some people like the squirrels, but you can feed them away from your other feeders.”

Round, slick metal baffles are another option. Attached underneath or above a feeder, they can block a ravenous rodent from climbing on.

Spice things up

“You can get birdseed already premixed with hot pepper,” Viette said. “Squirrels can’t stand it.”

Birds don’t have the same taste receptors as mammals, so spicy seed doesn’t bother them. Homeowners can purchase it premixed or mix their own birdseed with hot pepper. However, some don’t like to use it because they claim it can irritate squirrels’ eyes, Viette noted.

Other tips:

  • Squirrels can jump far! Keep bird feeders up high, in an open area and away from branches or anything a squirrel could use as a jumping point to get access to the feeder. 

  • Consider your seed choice; birds love Nyjer and safflower seed, but squirrels will avoid it.

  • Some might think trapping and relocating squirrels is a solution, but many localities have laws and regulations against this.

Don’t forget the water

Just as important as the birdseed, is making sure birds have a source of water like a birdbath, especially in communities where there’s no natural water source. For wintertime, there are heated birdbaths available, or you can use a birdbath warmer (Some are solar-powered) to keep the water from freezing.