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Squirrel Baffles That Work

Sooner or later most backyard bird watchers find themselves nose to nose in conflict with a squirrel. Squirrels can reach unprotected bird feeders with amazing agility, brazenly eating large amounts of bird seed and damaging expensive feeders.

The bushy-tailed Fox Squirrel is the most common inhabitant of Front Range urban and suburban communities, and also the cause of most bird feeding headaches. Fox Squirrels inhabit many Front Range communities where the trees are at least ten to fifteen years old. They have only been in eastern Colorado for the last century or so, moving across the Great Plains from the eastern U.S. after settlers planted trees for homesteading and flood control. During the 1800s Fox Squirrels were also introduced into the state as a game species, furthering their establishment in Colorado.

Feeder Placement

Squirrels will try to access your feeder from three directions: jumping across laterally from a launching point, springing straight up from the ground, or dropping down from an overhanging perch.

As you have probably already witnessed, squirrels are incredible acrobats. They can leap as much as eight feet horizontally, jump straight up from the ground four feet into the air, and drop down eleven feet from an elevated point. It is absolutely critical to block all three directions (see diagram). If any of the three points is vulnerable, that is the way the squirrel will pick as an access route.

If you suspend a hanging feeder from a tree branch or limb, make sure the supporting limb is isolated enough to be outside the squirrel's jumping limits (refer to diagram). Deciduous tree branches are best for hanging feeder support. Conifers or pines aren't usually good choices since their dense branch structure makes it almost impossible to adequately isolate the feeder.

If you hang the feeder from a roof overhang or from a porch, it may be difficult to keep the feeder outside the squirrel's jumping limits. Pay close attention to the recommended distances, keeping in mind that squirrels can climb a variety of surfaces and structures-wood or metal poles, porch supports, brick, stucco, and even wood siding.

Pay attention to overhead utility lines and roof overhangs. Since squirrels commonly drop down from these perches, they must be at least eleven feet away from feeders.

In rare instances exceptional jumpers may manage to exceed the protective distances outlined here. If you have a "super squirrel" on your hands, you'll need to exceed the recommended distances until you find the point just outside its jumping limits.

Squirrel Baffles

Another important component of foiling squirrels is using a baffle. A baffle is an obstructive device made of metal or heavy plastic that prevents the squirrel from reaching the feeder. Baffles for hanging feeders are usually disk-shaped or curved, and are positioned umbrella-style over the top of the feeder. Pole baffles are shaped like a disk, cone, or can, and attached directly to the pole.

For hanging feeders, position the baffle directly above the feeder to stop squirrels from coming down the hanging chain or wire. Make sure you have at least a two or three foot drop between the supporting branch or limb and the baffle. Always use a metal chain, long metal S-hook, or heavy wire to suspend hanging feeders. (If hanging the feeder from a tree limb, you can protect the limb with a split piece of garden hose or some other rubber covering.) Don't use nylon or cotton line. Squirrels can and will chew through non-metal line in deliberate attempts to "crash" the feeder.

Pole-mounted feeders positioned in open sites according to the diagram guidelines will keep squirrels from leaping or dropping onto the feeder. Pole-mounted feeders must also be fitted with a baffle since squirrels can easily climb either metal or wooden poles. Attach the baffle onto the pole at least four feet off the ground and below the feeder.

Squirrel-Proof Feeders

If your yard is too small for squirrel-proof positioning, or if you have to put the feeder in a vulnerable area-for instance, close to the house-consider a squirrel-proof feeder.

Squirrel-proof feeders are typically weight-activated, and constructed of metal so that squirrels can't damage or destroy them. A spring mechanism drops a protective shield over the seed supply when a squirrel lands on the feeding platform. Birds, however, are too light to trip the mechanism and can feed in peace. Although weight-activated feeders are typically more expensive than ordinary feeders, the investment quickly pays for itself in lower seed bills and the satisfaction of knowing the seed you put out is reserved only for the birds.

Squirrel-Proof Seed and Suet Choices

Another squirrel-proof option is using either safflower or thistle seed. Although squirrels relish peanuts, sunflower (black oil and striped), sunflower meats, and corn, they rarely, if ever, disturb feeders containing either safflower or thistle.

Safflower seed (not to be confused with sunflower seed) is a bitter-tasting seed grown commercially to process into safflower oil. Although squirrels have no interest in it, it is readily eaten by House Finches, Mourning Doves, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Evening Grosbeaks. Chickadees and nuthatches will also sample safflower.

Thistle seed is also commonly called niger (pronounced nie-jer) seed or niger thistle seed. It is a tiny black seed grown in tropical countries such as India, Ethiopia, or Nigeria. Thistle is not related to Canadian or Russian thistle. Because it is heat-sterilized at point-of-entry in the U.S., it will not sprout or become a garden nuisance. Thistle is very attractive to goldfinches, House Finches, Pine Siskins, Mourning Doves, and juncos.

Suet is made of beef fat or some other fatty substance, and is a traditional cold-weather bird offering relished by woodland birds such as woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches. Squirrels rarely show interest in raw (butcher's) suet or pure commercial suet. But if the suet contains additions such as seeds, grains, peanut butter, or nuts, it will be very attractive to squirrels. Use pure suet if you're unable to protect your suet feeder from raiding squirrels.

A Note on Trapping and Relocating

Although many kind-hearted people see trapping and relocating as a humane solution, wildlife experts don't recommend this method for controlling squirrels. Squirrels, like other wildlife, establish a maximum density population in their territory. Although you may temporarily rid your property of squirrels by trapping and relocating them, new arrivals will fill in vacancies within weeks or even days. And if you release a squirrel into a new area with the idea it will have a happy future somewhere else, think again. These animals actually have a slim chance of surviving because any suitable squirrel habitat-including state parks, cemeteries, city parks, or natural areas-is already filled to capacity. Your relocated squirrel will likely be driven out by established resident squirrels. Unable to establish or defend a feeding and territory, it will ultimately starve to death, succumb to illness, or be killed by a predator.

Even if you manage to find an area that can adequately support the squirrel, the relocated animal will simply become someone else's problem-and if that doesn't matter to you, think how upset you'd be if someone was dumping more squirrels into your neighborhood!
Relocation is no solution. Protecting your feeder with proper placement and baffles, using squirrel-proof feeders, or putting out a squirrel-proof seed offering are all much better options.

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