Express-News Weekly Column Saturday, December
30, 2000 Submitted by Calvin Finch, Ph.D., Director of Conservation,
SAWS, and Horticulturist
KEEPING SQUIRRELS AWAY FROM BIRD FEEDERS
Many readers of this column
enjoy feeding birds. A healthy drought-tolerant landscape with
a diverse mix of plants will attract a large bird population
on its own, but for easier observation some of us feed the birds.
The activity is fun, easy and relatively inexpensive. A major
challenge to successful bird feeding is squirrels. The clever
rodents can be interesting in their own right, but eat a lot
and do considerable damage to feeders. They are not content
to eat one sunflower seed per visit. Wooden feeders are chewed
up to gain access to the bounty, suet cakes are consumed in
big chunks, and a squirrel can easily carry off and eat a pound
of seed in one morning.
In the past we tried to limit
the squirrels access by greasing the wire or poles holding the
feeders. We also tried to have them far enough away from launching
pads to prevent the acrobatic jumps for which squirrels are
famous. Sometimes these tactics work but not usually. Here are
some simpler solutions to try:
Birds love chili petins and
do not seem to be bothered by pepper in any form. Squirrels
on the other hand do not like pepper. Select suet cakes and
seed mixes that are flavored with pepper. You can prepare your
own pepper sprays to apply to nut cakes, suet and seeds by soaking
a lot of habaneros (or other cheap, hot, dry pepper) in a plastic
five-gallon bucket in the sun. The more it stews, the better
it works. Drain off a small amount and dilute it with two parts
water to one part pepper sauce to spray the seeds.
If this anti-squirrel pepper
sauce strategy reminds you of the anti-deer pepper sauce, they
are almost the same. The deer deterrent usually includes soap.
Squirrels like soap so leave it out of the formula.
Another anti-squirrel tactic
that works well is to use feeders that are squirrel resistant.
The long-term champion in this regard are the Absolute brand
feeders. They are sturdy, steel feeders with weight-sensitive
perches that close when the heavy rodents apply their weight.
I set my perches to be open to cardinals and bluejays but closed
to white winged doves and squirrels.
There are at least two other
weight-sensitive squirrel resistant feeders on the market, the
Squirrel Surprise by Galee Industries and the Yankee Flipper
by Droll Yankee, the feeder that looks the most fun. The Yankee
Flipper is a tube feeder with a battery-operated weight-sensitive
perch. When the squirrel mounts the perch it quickly rotates.
On our KLUP radio show we dubbed it the "squirrel slinger".
The action is vigorous and the $120 price tag may be worth it
just to see the squirrel attempt to hold on to the perch.
If you get tired of trying
to outsmart the squirrels with high tech feeders, they are relatively
easy to trap. A $20 box trap and some peanut butter will catch
one right after the other. Some people relocate the squirrels
(stay away from my neighborhood!) and others dispatch them to
heaven (plantanswers.com has recipes!). The solution is not
permanent, however. If you are in a well-wooded area, the population
density can be high and a yard with bird feeders is prime squirrel
real estate. I trapped six out of our eight regular squirrels
and within two weeks our population was back up to five. Within
a few months the young of the year will fill any population
Squirrels are not all bad;
besides making a great stew, the battle to keep them off of
bird feeders has given meaning to many a gardener's life!
For the products mentioned
in this article visit your favorite bird specialty store or