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Last updated: September 1, 2022
There’s nothing better than looking out your window to see a flock of colorful songbirds enjoying the offerings in your birdfeeder. But this fun and rewarding hobby can quickly become costly and time-consuming when squirrels get involved.
These tree-dwelling rodents can make quick work of even large-capacity bird feeders. This means you have to spend more on seeds and fill the feeder more often. All without the benefit of seeing more birds visit your yard.
Luckily, there are some things you can do to thwart squirrels and make sure your bird seed goes to the birds. Here are ten tips to make bird feeders squirrel-proof and less attractive to thieves.
10 Tips to Keep Squirrels Away From Bird Feeders
In no particular order, try one or more of the following tips to keep squirrels away from your bird feeder in your backyard.
1. Use a Squirrel Baffle
Squirrel baffles are products meant to keep squirrels from crawling up or down a pole, chain, or branch. These items come in many different shapes and types. The most common are cone-shaped and made of slick metal that squirrels can’t grip.
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Baffles are a good solution because they can often be used with the bird feeder you already have. The simplest versions attach to the chain holding the feeder to prevent the squirrel from shimmying down it to grab a bite.
Just keep in mind, that for this to be effective, your feeder needs to be high enough and far enough from branches to keep squirrels from jumping straight to the perches. As you know, squirrels are smart and athletic!
2. Mount or Hang the Feeder from a Specialized Pole
Many poles meant to hang bird feeders come with baffles included in their design. For these, the baffle is typically welded onto the vertical section of the pole to keep squirrels from climbing up it.
If your pole doesn’t have a built-in baffle, you can slip a slinky over it and attach one end to the top of the feeder to keep squirrels from climbing all the way up.
Keep in mind that squirrels can jump impressive distances. To keep your feeder out of their reach, your pole needs to be tall enough to hold the feeder at least 5 feet off the ground. Place the pole at least 7 feet from the nearest branches, fences, and other scalable structures.
Keeping your bird feeder out in the open like this also has the benefit of keeping birds safer. Birds that go to the ground to pick up dropped seeds are much less likely to get ambushed by cats, weasels, and other ground predators if there aren’t a lot of hiding places around.
3. Suspend the Feeder Using Wire
Another easy way to make sure your feeder is unreachable is to use wire to suspend it between two points. Again, you’ll want to make sure the feeder hangs at least 5 feet off the ground and 7 feet from the nearest jump-off point.
A wire is too difficult for most squirrels to cross, especially if it’s very thin. But if you do find your squirrels are getting good at walking the tightrope, you can make it more difficult by threading spinning objects on the wire.
Plastic soda bottles with a hole in the bottom, empty thread spools, and lengths of pipe all work well for this purpose.
4. Use a Bird Feeder Cage
If your bird feeder is easily accessible to squirrels and you don’t want to move it, your best bet is to buy a bird feeder with a cage.
These cages are typically spaced away from the food access point and have holes too small for a squirrel to get its head through.
On the downside though, these cages will prevent larger birds from getting to the seed as well, so this solution depends on what types of birds you’re trying to attract to your outdoor space.
5. Keep Things Clean
Most squirrels find bird feeders thanks to the plethora of spilled seeds on the ground. Once they tire of eating the scraps, they inevitably go for the source.
Keeping the ground under your feeder clear of dropped seed will help assure you don’t attract extra dinner guests. It will also help keep birds safer from cats and ground-dwelling predators.
Some bird feeders come with built-in catch pans to avoid seeds falling to the ground. But you can also buy these catches separately and attach them to most standard feeders.
6. Add a Bit of Spice to Your Feed
One ingenious way to keep squirrels from eating your bird seed is to add ground cayenne pepper to it.
Contrary to popular belief, birds and mammals can both taste capsaicin, the spicy oil found in peppers. But only mammals have pain receptors that react to capsaicin. While your bird friends will appreciate the exotic flavor of your bird seed mix, the squirrels will hate it.
You can make your own spicy bird seed by adding 3 tbsp of fine cayenne powder to 1 pound of bird seed that has been premixed with a spray of kitchen oil. Sprinkle the powder in slowly and mix as you go to coat as much of the seed as possible. There are also many commercial spicy bird seed mixes available for purchase.
Read my guide on squirrels and cayenne pepper for more detailed information on this topic.
7. Change Your Feed
Cayenne isn’t the only thing squirrels are averse to eating. They also seem to dislike safflower seeds and nyjer seeds.
Most birds, however, do like these seeds so they make an excellent alternative birdseed for squirrel-infested backyards.
This approach can be especially effective when combined with our #8 tip.
8. Feed the Squirrels
This may seem counterintuitive, but if your biggest gripe about squirrels getting in your bird feeders is that they eat all the seed, this can help.
Start by using one of our tips above to make your bird feeder less appealing to squirrels. Then, set them up with their own easy-access feeder filled with cheaper feed. Things like raw peanuts and dried corn make wonderful squirrel food and are much less expensive than premiere bird seed.
Adding healthy food scraps like leftover fruit and vegetable pieces, stale wholegrain bread, and stale low-sodium, sugar-free cereal can reduce your costs further while reducing waste at the same time.
Plus, these extra scraps are highly coveted by squirrels. It won’t be long before they’re saying, “who needs bird seed!”, not kidding.
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, read my guide on feeding squirrels with more practical tips.
9. Use Natural Repellents
If you have a bird feeder that you don’t want to move that’s filled with premiere seed you don’t want to tamper with, using natural squirrel repellents is a viable option. This is especially effective when paired with the tip above.
Some smells, like peppermint oil, garlic, and vinegar, can keep squirrels away from your bird feeder. By placing cotton balls soaked in these scents on or near your bird feeder tray, you can repel the rodents without affecting the birds.
Another scent many homeowners swear by is that of Irish Spring soap. If the weather is cool enough, try hanging a bar of soap near your feeder. In hotter weather, it’s best to dampen the bar of soap and rub cotton balls on it, then place them outside.
High-frequency sound machines built to repel rodents can also work when placed around your bird feeder. These appear to have mixed results on squirrels but won’t affect birds, so they’re worth a try.
This tip also works well in gardens. Read my guide on keeping squirrels away from plants with more tips to keep your garden area free from squirrels.
10. Buy a Specialty Bird Feeder
If you’re struggling to implement any of the above methods, then your best bet is to invest in a new bird feeder. Specifically, one meant to keep squirrels out.
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These bird feeders come in various designs. Some are simply made to be too tall and slick for squirrels to climb down. Others have built-in baffles or cages. The ones we’ve found the most success with, however, are those that use weight-sensitive perches to open and close the feeder doors.
Weight-activated feeders have small food access doors that instantly close if too much pressure is put on the perch or on the feeder itself. Lightweight birds have no problem feeding as normal, but squirrels can’t access.
When it comes to keeping squirrels out of your feeder, your first defense is placement. But other tips, such as using baffles, cages, deterrents, and repellents can also be helpful.
What you should never do though is resort to tactics that may end up hurting the squirrels or anyone else. Hunting squirrels is illegal in most municipalities and puts other animals, neighbors, and pets at risk.
Using poisons can be equally dangerous as poisoned squirrels are often eaten by pets, raptors, and other beneficial predators. Using cats to cut down squirrel numbers is another no-no since these opportunistic hunters are much more likely to go after smaller prey like birds.
But the biggest reason these tactics don’t work is that when one squirrel leaves, another will take its place. Instead of trapping or hurting squirrels to save your bird feeder, your best bet is to take steps to fortify it so you, your birds, and your squirrels can coexist in peace.
I have tried cayenne pepper and pretreated seed and neither one of these stopped the pesky rascals. They also have learned how to get past the baffles.
Hi Terry, thanks for sharing your experience. I’ve had success with baffles but cayenne pepper has been a hit and miss. Squirrels are smart creatures that’s for sure.