Love them or hate them, these cute little critters are everywhere and if you put out feeders for your birds, you’ll find the squirrels stealing from them or even aggressively scaring the birds away. Let’s look at how to keep squirrels away from bird feeders.
Why Squirrels Go for Your Bird Feeders
First, why do squirrels go for your bird feeders? The simple answer is: because they are hungry. If you want to keep the squirrels away, you have to take away their food source.
Squirrels are omnivores. They eat both meat and vegetation. And they enjoy the easy access to the seeds you provide in your bird feeders. The best birdfeed, such as that with black oil sunflower seeds, nuts, and suet, are loved by squirrels just as much as the birds.
Why should you keep squirrels away?
So, why would you want to keep these adorable little critters away? Sure, there are a lot of things to love about squirrels and if you’re an animal lover or nature lover, you may be looking for ways to co-exist.
Squirrels may seem cute, but they can do damage to your lawn. They don’t just dig holes, but they also eat plants or seedlings that you are trying to grow.
Also, they will chew on everything including wooden bird houses and roofs which could put nests at risk of falling down. And finally, they make a mess out of your yard with their food remains or urine on the concrete around your house or garden.
Squirrels can also carry diseases like Hantavirus and the plague. If they are eating from your bird feeders, they could transmit these diseases to one another and even to the birds.
The good news is there are many great ways to keep the squirrels out of your bird seed. You just need to learn what they are and then determine which one is best for your needs.
How to Keep the Squirrels Out of Your Bird Feed
Now that you know why squirrels go for your bird feed, how do you keep them away? The most effective way to keep squirrels out of the bird feeder is to remove their access to the bird seed altogether.
Another way is to use feed they won’t be attracted to, so they are not tempted to it in the first place. We’ll look at different ways of achieving both of these goals below.
The best way is not to have a bird feeder at all. However, if it’s important for you to have them, here are some things that will keep squirrels away from your bird feeders:
Use physical deterrents
Use squirrel-proof poles, cages, or baffles where your pole meets the ground. If this cannot be done for aesthetic reasons, try putting wire mesh around your posts. It will be less attractive for the squirrels to climb up!
Create a squirrel repellent spray
Create a homemade squirrel repellent. Another option is to make up your own squirrel repellent using cayenne pepper, onion, jalapeno, and water. Any hot peppers will do for the same thing, however.
When you create your spray, put it into a spray bottle and put it everywhere you want to prevent the squirrels from going such as around bird feeders, porches, etc.
Change/limit the amount of food
Change how much food you give the birds. For example, use just enough food for one feeding and then keep watch. Once the birds are finished, bring the bird feeder indoors, rather than leaving it out all the time where other animals can get into it. This is going to require more maintenance than some other options, however.
Spice it up
Spicy food is not on a squirrel’s menu. Add spice to your bird feed. Another option is to put some hot spices in your bird feed: a light sprinkle of cayenne pepper will work great!
The birds are not harmed, and they are immune to the spice, but squirrels don’t like it. The scent alone may be enough to keep them away. Red pepper flakes are also a popular choice. Spice is a natural squirrel deterrent so it’s very easy to use and not harmful to the squirrels or the environment.
Use a motion-activated sprinkler. Another natural squirrel deterrent is water. Squirrels do not like water spraying at them, and if you set up a sprinkler system, it will chase them away before they get to the birdseed. It will also deter other animals like raccoons, skunks, and rabbits.
Use a squirrel baffle. You can also put a baffle around your bird feeders. This will act as a barrier to keep the squirrels out. They are usually cone or dome-shaped and create a curved barrier that prevents the squirrel from moving up the pole and accessing food.
Use a squirrel-proof bird feeder pole and place your bird feeder or birdhouse at the top of the pole. This is another option to keep the squirrels away.
If you use a squirrel-proof pole, they won’t be able to climb the pole to get to the birdfeeder and seed. But birds will still be able to fly in and access it. A squirrel-proof pole makes it impossible for them to access the food you put out for your birds.
Use peppermint oil
Deter the squirrels with peppermint oil. Another scent that squirrels do not like is peppermint oil. You can create a spray using 10-15 drops of peppermint oil in 1 cup of water. Mix it up, put it in a spray bottle, and spray around the bird feeders where you want to keep the squirrels away.
Offer foods squirrels don’t like
Finally, another option is to choose birdseed that the squirrels don’t really care for. Nyjer seeds are not something that squirrels eat but many birds love them. Safflower seeds are also not a favorite of squirrels, but many birds love them. White Proso Millet is very small so squirrels don’t usually care for it, but many birds will enjoy it.
Another option that you have is to use squirrel-proof bird feeders. Let’s explore this more.
Use squirrel-proof bird feeders
Another option to help you with keeping the squirrels out of your bird feed is to buy squirrel-proof bird feeders. There are several different types and styles to choose from and they have different ways of functioning to keep the squirrels out.
The best squirrel-proof bird feeder will depend on the features you require the most but look for those that deny squirrels access to the bird food by closing off the seed ports. Some of these work by weight activation and some work with caging mechanisms.
Weight-activated feeders will close off the access to birdseed based on the squirrel’s weight. Birds are much lighter, and it will remain open for them. Lightweight birds can hop on and eat whenever they want. This is a great way of keeping squirrels out of your bird seed without causing any harm to them.
Here are some for you to consider:
Squirrel buster legacy squirrel-proof bird feeder
This one has a nice, simple design, keeps the squirrels out, and it’s affordable and can be placed in several places throughout the yard, if you choose.
Perky-pet 8lb squirrel-be-gone II feeder home with chimney
I love how this one looks like a cute little house, and it holds a lot of birdseed and works well to keep squirrels out.
Bird feeder with flexports
This one is simple in looks but works very well. Birds can get their feed and it holds up to 4 pounds. Squirrels cannot gain access.
Squirrel proof metal bird feeder
This one is nice, holds up to 6 pounds of feed, allows birds to access from all sides, but squirrels can’t get to the feed.
The best squirrel proof bird feeder is one that meets all your needs properly. In order to determine which one this is for you, it helps to make a short list of your needs before you begin shopping.
Location is key
Another thing to know about preventing squirrels from eating your birdseed is that the location you place the birdfeeder is important. Squirrels have physical limitations as well, so when you keep these in mind when choosing a location, it can pay off.
Here are some things to remember:
- Squirrels cannot jump more than 5 feet into the air
- Squirrels cannot jump more than 7 feet across
- Squirrels will rarely jump to a feeder above 9 feet high
Some call this the 5-7-9 Rule. If you place your bird feeders with this rule in mind, the squirrels can’t access but birds still can.
What NOT to Do
When looking for ways to deter the squirrels from your bird feeders, you might see or hear about many “home remedies” but not all of them are safe for the squirrels. Here are some things you should avoid.
Vaseline or petroleum jelly
Some people recommend putting Vaseline on the pole so the squirrels slide down and can’t climb up it. The Center for Wildlife says there are many ways to deter squirrels from climbing feeders, however, Vaseline and other lubricants can harm the animals. “Please do not coat your bird feeders in Vaseline, oil, butter, or anything like that.”
Although they may be labeled as “humane”, traps are cruel and in general, don’t work. If you trap a squirrel and then release it in the same area, it’s just going to come back again.
And if you trap and release far away, you could be putting the squirrel at risk of death. You’ve moved it away from its home, its source of food, and where it may already have stored nuts and seeds, especially before winter. Even if the trap does not physically injure the squirrel, it’s not truly “humane”.
How to Keep Squirrels Away from Bird Feeders – Conclusion
Bird watchers can relax when they have a squirrel proof feeder or some other deterrent for their squirrel problems. Although they are very cute, pesky squirrels can be a real nuisance to your birds. They don’t understand what they are doing is bad or wrong. They just seem like yummy food and they want to eat it.
You can keep hungry squirrels at bay by limiting their access to food and making the food seem less enticing to them. You won’t hurt the squirrels in any way, and they’ll just move on and find better sources of food. That leaves the backyard birder to enjoy watching their birds come to feed without any interruptions from small mammals.
Your backyard bird feeders can be safe from these agile squirrels when you use some of the tips above to decrease their access to the feeders and deter them from wanting to eat the food in the first place. Squirrels are a part of nature and they serve their purpose, too, but if you want them not to eat the bird feed, you may need to work at it a bit to create a system that keeps them out.
Do you have a proven squirrel-repellent method you want to share? Have you tried the ones on our list? Let us know in the comments.
Lisa Clark is a freelance writer who grew up on farmland, then moved to the city, and has now retired back to her rural roots. She's having fun teaching her kids about gardening, planting flowers, and collecting houseplants.