Tips for squirrel-proofing your bird feeder

Squirrels and bird feeders go hand-in-hand. While the occasional visit from a furry friend is delightful for most people, the frequent presence of squirrels around your feeders can quickly become a nuisance. Not only can these critters eat you out of house and home, their rodent acrobatics can damage feeders. These factors can end up costing you time and money.

Here are some tips for squirrel-proofing your bird feeders and keeping the peace in your yard.

Invest in a squirrel-proof feeder

Certain types of bird feeders are designed with squirrels in mind. Some have cages designed to keep anything other than birds from accessing feed. Others have small motors that are activated by weight sensors that gently nudge squirrels in the right direction.

Avoiding platform feeders and other easy-access food stuffs will also help ensure that birds have feeding areas to themselves.

If you don’t want to invest in a new feeder, there are still plenty of things you can do.

Keep the ground clean

Frequently raking the ground near and around your feeders can help keep squirrels at bay. In many instances, discarded seeds and shells laying about are a squirrels first hint that there is a food source present.

By not providing a low-effort feeding opportunity, you are less likely to encourage the presence of squirrels to begin with.

Pick the right pole

It’s no secret that squirrels are excellent at climbing. Most wood and metal poles that hang bird feeders are no match for the prowess of these four-legged critters. However, PVC pipe can prove to be more of a challenge.

If you don’t want to go that route, you can do what my grandpa did and apply a thin layer of Crisco to the bottom couple of feet of the pole. For a little less maintenance , consider adding a slinky to the base of the pole.

Tweak your feed

Squirrels aren’t too picky about bird feed varieties, but they are a little more selective than many bird species. Tinkering with your offerings can lead to different results. For instance, switching to a mix that features safflower has been known to deter squirrels.

Another option is adding a bit of spice to your feed. Adding chili peppers or chili flakes to your mix will nip your squirrel troubles in the bud since these animals are sensitive to the taste and sensation of heat. Birds, on the other hand, are not.

Give the squirrels their own feeder

If you want the best of both worlds, you can simply feed the squirrels in your yard as well.

Providing peanuts or dried corn in a squirrel-friendly feeder can take away the need for squirrels to ransack your bird feeders. Accessibility is key because, like most living creatures, squirrels are much more apt to take the easy meal over one that requires exerting significant effort.

You can keep everyone happy by offering appropriate, approachable feeding opportunities for a variety of animals that inhabit your yard.

Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast – Episode 14: Birding and the importance of citizen science

It’s Episode 14 of the Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast!

Nick Anich, Breeding Bird Atlas Coordinator – Bureau of Natural Heritage for the Wisconsin DNR, joins the show to discuss birding and highlight the benefits of utilizing the eBird app.

Nathan and Nick discuss bird feeders, how to get into birding, and the impact of citizen science.

You can listen to the episode in the player below or wherever you get your podcasts. Like what you hear? Be sure to subscribe on your podcast platform of choice.

For more information on eBird, click here.

If you enjoyed this episode, you may also be interested in these articles:

How birding has made me a better outdoorsman

6 tips for maintaining your bird feeder

Jump Day

Caring for the birds in your yard

Caring for the birds in your yard

If you have a bird feeder or bird bath on your property, there are several steps you can take to care for the birds in your yard.

Avian diseases are a threat to all types of bird species and, if you’re not paying close attention, your yard can become a breeding ground for some of these ailments.

Earlier this summer, reports surfaced that a mysterious illness is killing off a variety of birds in portions of the Midwest and South.

This sickness impacted a variety of birds that frequent backyards and feeder areas including: common grackles, European starlings, and blue jays — species that are commonly found in Wisconsin.

Affected birds can show several symptoms such as the inability to balance, crusty or puffy eyes, or signs of seizures.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first or the last time something like this will happen. In fact, disease is a risk many birds have to deal with, even when it doesn’t make headlines. This is especially true in summertime.

Oddly (but thankfully), this illness appears to have vanished.

However, there are still some things you can do to help keep the birds in your backyard healthy. These procedures are best practice to keep the birds in your yard healthy, regardless of if there are known bird diseases circulating in your area or not.

Reduce or eliminate feeders in summer

Many people choose to take down their bird feeders in the summer months. There are two primary reasons for this decision. The first is that food is readily available to birds during warmer times of year. Removing feeders forces birds to rely on their natural food-gathering skills and helps keep them wild.

The second reason is to help prevent the spread of disease. Many avian ailments are spread through contact. Congregating birds in an unnatural setting can increase the chances that a virus, fungus, or disease can work its way through a larger segment of the population.

Personally, I choose to reduce the number of feeders in my yard from two to one starting in late June. I maintain this setup through early September. I find this to be a happy balance between suddenly taking away a reliable food supply from my local birds while taking a step toward promoting the safety of the animals through minimizing close contact between birds or encounters with surfaces that are often used by other birds.

Wash your feeders and bird baths

Cleaning your bird feeders and baths is always critical. But frequent washing becomes absolutely crucial in the summer time.

Be sure to regularly wash your feeders and baths in a solution made of 10 percent bleach and 90 percent water. Use a brush to help work the solution into all the nooks and crannies.

If you have a bird bath, be sure to frequently change the water between cleanings. Stagnant water can quickly become a breeding ground for all sorts of nasty things that can negatively impact birds.

It’s is also important to keep the food in your feeders fresh. As bird seed ages, it can become damp. This promotes bacterial and fungal growth that can be harmful to flying critters.

Monitor the birds in your yard

Even if you don’t have a feeder or bird bath in your yard, you can still do your part to help prevent the spread of bird diseases.

Take an extra second each day to observe the birds in your yard. Make note of any that are acting oddly or appear to have any sort of crusty buildup or puffiness near their eyes or beaks.

If you notice a bird that fits that description, be sure to take down any feeders or bird baths you have and give them a thorough cleaning. Wait a week or two before putting the feeders and/or bird baths back out and be sure to watch them closely once you do.

Report suspicious-looking birds

If you see a bird that looks sickly, either due to its appearance or its behavior, notify your local department of natural resources office. They will be able to point you in a direction that will help you provide the information to the proper wildlife official.

Also, as tempting as it may be to try to rush to the bird’s aid, don’t do it. For the safety of you and the bird, it is best to not attempt to approach or handle it. Let your local wildlife officials take care of that side of things.

If you enjoyed this article you may also like Episode 14 of the Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast, featuring tips on birding an maintaining bird feeders from Nick Anich of the Wisconsin DNR. Listen below or wherever you get your podcasts.

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