John Ruitta

For the… squirrels?

A happy victory... for the Squirrel

Defeated squirrel baffle. Photo by fishhawk

Many educators write to describe a common sight at their school and backyard bird feeders… those delightful, hungry… squirrels!

If you have a bird feeder, you probably know this clever critter well.  She can commonly be seen jumping onto your bird feeder, knocking it down or spilling out all the seed, feasting on the spoils of her exploits. Squirrel guards and other “squirrel-proof ” feeders can be proven useless by a particularly ruthless squirrel.

Due to the popularity of our Feathered Friends curriculum, we’ve gotten a lot of questions regarding what to do about menacing squirrels.  The sad reality is, if a hungry squirrel wants to get to the seed within a feeder, it probably will. One person tried TWO squirrel baffles (the dome-shaped protector above the feeder, see photo, left) to no avail. Even the feeder below, designed to close under the weight of a squirrel, didn’t stand a chance: the squirrel just hung from the roof and pulled seed out by the handful.

So what can you do?  Here are five tips and tricks.  Try them out with the young people you teach, and consider inviting them to do a study to investigate the impacts of your actions. Share your ideas and results with us!

  1. For starters, try to make your feeders inaccessible. This is no easy task when you’re dealing with an animal acrobat that can leap 8 feet horizontally and jump down vertically even further. If at all possible, position feeders at least 10 feet from jumping-off points. Consider placing a window feeder in the middle of a window- squirrels cannot climb on slippery glass.
  2. Baffles can help. You might have luck with placing a tilting baffle over your hanging feeder or a non-tilting one beneath a feeder on a pole. You can even make one with a garbage can lid or a big plastic salad bowl.
  3. Contrary to popular belief, in most cases what attracts the squirrels is not simply the prospect of free food—it is the kind of food.  For instance, some inexpensive birdseed mixes contain corn, which is like squirrel chocolate.  Many species of birds, on the other hand, don’t prefer corn. The solution: look for bird seed mixtures without corn.  In addition, there are several options for “squirrel proof ” feed: safflower seeds, millet, and thistle are three examples of food that squirrels scorn but birds love.
  4. Why not try bribing the squirrels away? Leave out corn, corn cobs, or raw peanuts for the squirrels well away from your feeder. If the squirrels discover a good, steady food supply in an alternative location than your feeder they will be less likely to seek out your bird seed.
  5. Finally, if you can’t beat them, join them! There’s even a citizen-science project that you can do: Project Squirrel!

It’s useful to be able to hang by your toes while having breakfast.
Photo and caption by Dwight Sipler

Young people across the country have done studies on various questions and challenges related to birds.  Many of these young scientists elect to do studies on bird feeders. If you want to determine whether or not the above suggestions work, we suggest that you observe your feeders and collect data (on the squirrels and birds) before and after these “squirrel interventions.”  Use Investigating Evidence to help students ask and answer questions like these:

  • Which seed brand or variety attracts more bird species?  Do squirrels favor the same seed?
  • Which “squirrel proof” feeder is more effective?
  • Will fewer squirrels visit my feeder if corn cobs are available 50 feet away?
  • Does the presence of squirrels impact the kinds and numbers of birds at the feeder?

Finally, if you enjoy feeding birds, you and the students you work with might like to participate in the Cornell Lab’s Project FeederWatch citizen-science project; BirdSleuth also offers a free educational resource written especially for homeschoolers participanting in this project. You can also use our Feathered Friends downloadable lessons to support learning through hands-on activities, literature, and outdoor observation and investigation. For more information on dealing with squirrels and other challenges with feeders, be sure to check out this All About Birds article.

Happy bird (and squirrel?) feeding!

One Comment

  1.  by  Nancy Tognan

    For 25 years, I have used a feeder called the Droll Yankee Big Top, which I hang from a tree branch by a half-inch rope. It seems to be squirrel-proof when it is far enough from the tree trunk. Sometimes, the squirrel tries to slide down around the baffle, and it usually slips off lands on the ground, very entertaining for people. The squirrels have not figured out that they could drop the feeder to the ground by chewing through the rope.

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