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Last updated: September 1, 2022
Cayenne pepper has been touted as a cure-all remedy to keep squirrels out of your bird feeder. But does this simple method actually work?
In this article, I will look at the theory behind using cayenne pepper and other hot peppers to deter squirrels and show you how and why it works.
In addition, I will give you our simple recipe for making a spicy bird seed blend right at home.
Cayenne Pepper to Keep Squirrels Away
Before I discuss why cayenne pepper is effective at keeping squirrels away, we first need to talk about what cayenne pepper is and, more specifically, what capsaicin is.
What Is Cayenne Pepper?
Cayenne peppers are a specific type of pepper prized for their medium spice level and deep flavor.
These peppers, which are usually red at maturity, are elongated with somewhat rippled skin and often a curled tip. They are typically dried, ground into a powder, and used as a cooking spice.
Like other peppers, their spiciness level is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), otherwise known as the Scoville scale, and usually ranges between 30,000 and 50,000 SUH.
For comparison, the typical jalapeno is between 2,500 and 10,000 SHU while the hottest pepper in the world, the Carolina Reaper, can be more than 2,000,000 SHU.
What Is Capsaicin?
Scoville units indicate how much capsaicin is present in a pepper. Capsaicin is a chemical compound produced by fruits in the capsaicin genus. This group includes all spicy and sweet peppers.
In addition to giving peppers their spicy taste, capsaicin is also used in pepper spray and in some topical ointments for pain relief.
Why Don’t Squirrels Like Cayenne Pepper?
When mammals like humans and squirrels eat peppers containing capsaicin, the chemical activates specific pain receptors in the brain. This gives the impression of “burning” that you feel when you eat a hot pepper.
While some people might enjoy this sensation, most can only tolerate so much spice. Even more so than most people, squirrels do not appreciate the sensation capsaicin creates.
If they taste something that has been dusted with cayenne pepper powder or even smell it, they’ll quickly abandon that food source.
Mammals are highly affected by capsaicin, but birds are not. While birds can taste spice, they lack the pain receptors that create the burning sensation.
That’s why you can use cayenne pepper to flavor birdseed to keep squirrels from eating it without causing the birds to stop eating it.
Cayenne pepper powder and oil can also be used around the garden to keep squirrels from digging up your plants and eating your produce. Simply spray the oil or sprinkle the powder on and around the plants the squirrels are disturbing.
What About Other Hot Peppers?
Any pepper with a decent amount of capsaicin in it will work as a squirrel deterrent. Cayenne is so often used because it’s easy to find, inexpensive, and can be bought in bulk.
Cayenne pepper also has a good amount of spice without overdoing it. Peppers with high spice, such as habanero, are spicy enough to irritate a squirrel’s lungs and eyes if they get too close.
Since our goal here is to keep squirrels from eating bird seed, not to hurt them, cayenne pepper powder is the best choice.
How to Make Spicy Birdseed
Because spice works so well to keep squirrels out of the bird feeder, many retailers sell pre-made spicy bird seed mix.
But you can easily save a little money by making your own spicy bird seed right at home.
Here is what you will need:
- 1 pound of bird seed
- 1 bucket or large mixing bowl
- Natural cooking oil spray (vegetable or olive)
- 3 tbsp of cayenne pepper
And here is how to make it:
- Slowly dump the bird seed into the bucket while lightly spritzing it with cooking oil as you go.
Because we don’t want to increase the seeds’ fat content too much, it’s important not to overdo it.
- Measure and add three tablespoons of cayenne pepper.
Be sure to pour it in slowly and avoid getting it on your hands.
- Use a large spoon or spatula to mix the birdseed until the pepper powder is evenly dispersed.
Be sure to mix well so all your seed is protected.
A touch of cooking oil will help the powder stick to the birdseed and keep squirrels from picking out seeds that didn’t get coated.
Place your seed in a covered, rain-proof bird feeder. This will prevent precipitation from washing the spice off the seeds before the birds have had a chance to eat it all.
Homemade Spicy Bird Seed Tips and Tricks
Take care when mixing your spicy bird seed; remember that we are dealing with HOT peppers here. Try not to touch the seed once you’ve made it. And if you do, wash your hands well afterward.
You’ll also need to take care when pouring in your cayenne pepper powder. If you pour it too fast, the powder can explode into the air and potentially get into your mouth and eyes.
You can use hot pepper oil instead of cooking oil and pepper powder to make the process easier. Just be sure the oil you’re using is all natural and doesn’t contain artificial colors or extra ingredients.
Lastly, if you like to add extras to your birdseed, like peanuts or sunflower seeds, be sure to add those before you mix in the pepper.
Apparently my squirrels have acquired a taste for Cayenne pepper. It worked the first two days but now there are two of them out there happily munching away on my expensive bird seeds. While they are enjoying their feast, the birds stay away.