Feeder Squirrel Problems

Dear Abbey Column for…

Let’s face it. If you have squirrels in your area, chances are they will assume EVERYTHING you put out is for them. It is a conspiracy of nature! They don’t know the difference between your so called bird feeder and the squirrel feeder you want them to use. Bottom line is they will choose to feed where their favorite food is or on the feeder that is most comfortable for their chubby little butts!! Squirrels can be cute and fun to watch until they dominate or even destroy one of your bird feeders! Don’t despair and don’t lose sleep over these tree rats! Here’s some tips on living with these mischievous critters. You have two choices; you can beat ’em or join ’em:


We prefer to join ’em. Research has shown that squirrels are very territorial. When fed continuously away from your bird feeders, they will mark the area as their own and protect it from other squirrels entering the area. A good motto to keep in mind is: A WELL FED SQUIRREL IS A HAPPY SQUIRREL!! Their favorite foods are whole raw peanuts, sunflower seed or whole or cracked corn. In that order! Don’t expect them to eat that corn if you have some plump peanuts or sunflowers lying around! Throw these favorite foods into a hanging platform feeder (platform feeders give them plenty of room to sit!) or a specialized squirrel feeder.


You can beat squirrels at their own game, but you need to know a few game rules:

  • Squirrels can jump great distances. They can jump 5 to 6 feet straight up from the ground, or from any surrounding surface like a tree or house. Just think how far they can jump if they have a running start!
  • Squirrels are problem solvers. You may think you have them beat, but they will work on beating you! Keep in mind you may have to adjust things a little in the beginning. It may take several attempts at getting it right so don’t despair at first!

OK, now that we have those preliminaries out of the way, let’s get to work!……
If you want to keep them off of your existing feeders, you HAVE TO GET THEM OUT OF THEIR REACH! We know this is easier said then done, but you have to make sure they cannot climb, jump or hop onto your feeders in anyway. We always suggest putting 10 feet of air around your feeder. Make sure the feeder is at least 10 feet away from any tree, bush, fence, surface, etc. If this is not possible, try a squirrel baffle. Squirrel baffles are very effective when they are used properly. These devices are smooth cylindrical devices or domes that make it difficult for a squirrel to climb onto your feeder. Squirrel baffles can be hung over your feeder, or mounted on a pole or post under your feeder. But remember! You may have to adjust the positioning at first to really keep the squirrels out!

There are many simple and elaborate feeders available to foil these fury bandits, but the best ones we’ve seen have a cage protecting the feeder from squirrels, but allowing small birds inside to feed. Click here to see some pictures of squirrel proof feeders and click here for to view additonal popular squirrel proof bird feeders and videos of them in action.

We’ve also heard that squirrels are not fond of safflower seed. Try switching to safflower in your bird feeder. There are bird seed and food additives available containing hot pepper. The hot pepper will not bother your birds, but the squirrels don’t seem to be too fond of the hot stuff! Check out our Flaming Squirrel Hot Pepper Additive NOW!

Here are some more great suggestions from our web site visitors!:

“I’ve been having trouble with squirrels trying to take over the feeder. Especially early in the mornings. But by adding a tablespoon of cayenne pepper to 10 pounds of birdseed and mixing it well into the seed. I find that the next time they came to the feeder it was probably the smell or the taste of hot pepper…and away they went. After a couple of tries they gave up without eating. It does not hurt the birds evidently the pepper has no effect on birds as they certainly enjoy feeding without interruption. I enjoy your Friendly Bird Tips.”
…from John Mehill

“FYI someone may want to try this solution.
I have a bird feeder hanging from a steel Shepherd’s rod or staff. One of the local squirrels liked to climb the shaft of the rod and jump over to the feeder.
To solve the problem I sprayed the pole with Spam, the stuff that you use on your outdoor grill to keep things from sticking. The squirrel now gets about halfway up the pole then slides to the ground. He can no longer get to the feeder, is not hurt and is fun to watch. After about three days he stopped trying to climb the pole to the feeder.”
…from Rollie Rittner, Findlay, Ohio

“Yes indeed, I’m quite familiar with all the problems mentioned. As for the seeds sprouting, I suppose a feeder with one of those trays to catch stray seeds would help. I’m glad you mentioned chickadees. I’ve had 3 or 4 precious experiences where I held a little cup of seed and they landed on the clothes line and I slowly moved forward and one took a seed from the cup. The biggest thrill was the day I held seed in my hand and a chickadee actually ate from my hand. I smiled inside and out that I had gained his or her trust. They are so sweet. Right outside my bedroom window I get to view nuthatches, a Downey woodpecker, tufted titmice, finches and chickadees. Not bad for one feeding season! I never used to even notice birds, now I’m hooked!!
Thanks for all your helpful info!!”
…from Kathy Reynolds, Leominster, Massachusetts

NOTE: We have removed any suggestions to use grease or Vaseline to coat bird feeder poles, as these substances are harmful to squirrels in various ways. One customer comments:

“Squirrels that try to climb grease coated feeder poles get the grease on their fur. They cannot remove it and their fur can no longer be “fluffed up” to offer insulation in the winter (the same way oil slicks kill waterfowl). They freeze to death. Slowly and painfully.

As well, in the process, they may attempt to clean the grease off of themselves by self-grooming. When they ingest the oil or vaseline it causes intense intestinal discomfort and diarrhea. So they dehydrate painfully before they die as well. (Try to imagine consuming a comparable amount of vaseline based on your own body size).
…Julia B

(also see comment from Elizabeth Whitham further down the page)

“I make suet from a RECIPE I found in a bird book from out local home improvement store called MIRACLE MEAL. I had problems with starlings and squirrels eating it all up before the downeys or chickadees could even get to it, because I was putting it in the regular metal suet feeders that has wide openings. I happened to also have a wooden cedar suet feeder that was covered with the same kind of mesh oranges come in. Well the squirrels ate a big hole in that and carried off chunks of suet. I bought some 1/4” metal cloth from a little hardware store (they’re the only ones that will sell it by the foot) and stapled it to the wooden suet feeder. It hasn’t stopped the squirrels or starlings from trying to feed from it but they only spend about 30 seconds trying. I now have the red bellied woodpecker enjoying it along with the nuthatch in addition to the Downey, wren, and sometime chickadee. This has been a real find for me because we can have in our little back yard in Riverdale Maryland at one time 20 pigeons, 100 starlings and 15 squirrels. My husband also fashioned a peanut bag (idea from same bird book, “Enjoy Bird Feeding More”) from the 1/4 ” metal cloth and only the chickadee, titmouse,Downey and occasional finch enjoy it. I put a plastic baffle on the top of it to annoy the squirrels when they do try to eat. It seems that in our yard all the birds like Safflower seed so we put one globe of it up in the rafter of the deck ceiling for the chickadee/titmouse. Although in the summer a bluejay landed on it practically upside-down to feed her baby and that baby still looks for it. Wonder how long before he tries his mother’s approach. We’ve been certified by the NWF so we are trying to outsmart all these unwanted critters. Thanks for your updates, ideas, and solutions. I enjoy receiving mail from you. Keep up the Great work!”
…from Barbara Williams

“After about 10 years of fighting the furry little things, I decided to join them. I have over 30 feeders in my yard…and two, especially for the squirrels. I keep them filled with grapes, apples, peanuts, suet, bread, etc. This keeps the five or so squirrels happy, and for the most part, away from the other feeders. Mind you, they still visit the bird feeders, just not as frequently.”
…from Valerie,Val Therese, Ontario, Canada (20 minutes north of Sudbury, Ontario.)

“Thanks for your message and happy new year to you too. We love watching the black-capped chickadees feeding at our finch feeders here in wintry western New York. Sometimes if I stand real still with some oil sunflower seed in my hand the chickadees will actually land right on my hand and grab a seed.

We run into all kinds of varmint problems here on the shore of Lake Ontario. Raccoons ripping down the feeders are a big problem. It’s amazing where these animals can get to. Of course, spilled seed attracts rats and mice. I do know what to do about that. We have cats to patrol the yard, but unfortunately they are a danger to the birds too. So we keep the feeders up as high as is practical.

A couple of weeks ago a peregrine falcon, probably swooping down at a bird near our feeder, smashed right into our back window. It was momentarily stunned, but took off as soon as I went outside to look at it. It flew high up into the air and circled for awhile.

The only protection against I know of against squirrels is a disc shaped squirrel guard between the feeder and whatever it is hanging from. We get a few unusual birds coming through our area during the winter. Some of the ones I’ve seen are evening grosbeaks, spruce grouse, hairy, Downey, and redheaded woodpeckers, and nuthatches at our suet feeders. Common winter birds here are buntings and juncos, usually feeding spilled seed on the ground under the feeders. We get many cardinals all winter.
Have a wonderful bird filled 1998 and thanks for your wonderful website.”
…from Mike Gillis, Youngstown, New York

“Good morning,its always so nice to read your messages on our feathered friends. Did you know to keep squirrels from invading your bird feeders sprinkle cayenne pepper in the feeders. It won’t harm the birds but it will keep away the squirrels. I don’t mind the squirrels, I have 10 bird feeders around my house, so if the squirrels are at the feeders the birds can go to the other. I live in the interior of Alaska, 20 miles north of denali national park and now I have many redpolls at the feeders. I also have a pair of flickers that have been here for two winters. I put suet out for them, when its real cold and the suet is frozen, it sounds like someone is pounding nails on the outside of the house. I have made feeders made from the plastic one gallon containers that juice is in that you buy from your grocer. On the side of cranberry juice plastic containers there are six panels. I cut every other one out making sure that you leave a high enough lip on the bottom to keep the food from falling out. I punch two holes on the top right under the cap and insert a wire and hang them up. I put seeds, suet mixed with peanut butter in the bottom. I hang these around my house and the squirrels cannot get at them.
Your friend in Alaska,”
…from Lolita Valcq, Healy, Alaska

“I decided to quit fighting with the squirrels over sunflower seeds after they destroyed two of my birdfeeders by chewing on them until the feeders fell out of the trees and broke. Now, I have four feeders. Three feeders with nothing but black oil sunflower seeds ( two for the squirrels) and one with bird seed/sunflower mix for the birds which the squirrels happily leave alone.”
…from DeAnn Busbee

“I saw your comment in the section about ‘beating the squirrels’ that they don’t like safflower seed. I had heard the same thing, and started using it regularly. Tufted Titmice, some finches, Cardinals, and other birds love it!! And for nearly a year, there was nary a squirrel in sight. Suddenly, during the late summer, two or three of our local ‘tree rats’ were perpetually munching on the safflower at a hanging house type feeder. Now, it seems to be their favorite food, even when whole corn is available. So – another myth shot to #@#%!)_#@* !!!! I think I’ll take your other advice, and start offering whole peanuts for their enjoyment – in an area far away from the bird feeders.”
….from Craig Brady, Highland Mills, New York

“Hi Wildbirds Forever,
My husband has my feeder on a 4×4 and has taken an 8′ length of rain gutter, cut it in half and put one half on one side and the other half on the other side to completely cover the 4×4. It is so much fun to see them try to jump on to the post to climb up. They are more than welcome to eat on the ground. But you know they don’t come around that much any more. Wanted to share this with you. Thanks for your web site”
….from Sue O

“Please advise readers that they should not use GREASE on poles or anywhere. It is very toxic to squirrels, which may make some people happy. However, for the people that like, yes like, squirrels, I find this a terrible practice. They are very clean animals, as are most, therefore, they injest the GREASE when cleaning themselves. Please put this info in one of your newsletters. Thank you.

“P.S. I feed squirrels every day. I have become a slave to them. I hire a pet sitter when we go away to throw out seed in the morning. Actually I call it Squirrel seed. I also give the seed bars and corn on the cob. I have different bird feeders and several baffels to keep the furry monsters off the feeders. They are very fat around here. I love them though. They are very smart and very determined. My husband and I have spent hundreds of $ and hours of time try to outsmart a so called dumb animal. We have had the pleasure in Spring to see the baby squirrel play just like kittens. They expend so much energy, it is no wonder they are always hungry. You should also mention how important fresh water is now and all the time. By the way the first thing the squirrels do even before they go for the seed, is to jump up on bird bath (have defroster and fresh water all winter) to get a drink. I feel bad for all the other squirrels when everything freezes. They can always get water and food at our house.”
….from Elizabeth Whitham

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