Squirrel vs Bird Feeder: What is a Bird Watcher to Do?

Squirrel Peeking Over a Baffle at A Squirrel Buster Feeder
Squirrel Peeking Over a Baffle at A Squirrel Buster Feeder

When a squirrel decides that your bird feeder must surely be a food source you put out just for him, what can you do? You might think that you have to accept that if you have squirrels and feed birds that they will be getting into the feeders and there is nothing you can do about it. But after many years of feeding birds, I have found that you don’t have to give into squirrels. You just need to observe how the squirrels are getting into the feeder(s), think creatively and be willing to consider and try a variety of possible solutions.

Keep in mind that squirrels can be very tenacious. You may need to try multiple methods to solve the problem. You also need to understand that things change in the yard over time and that this might require a change to a set-up that has been working well for you in the past.

Squirrel Deterring Solutions I’ve Used in My Yard Over the Years:

A Squirrel Thwarted By a Baffle
A Squirrel Thwarted By a Baffle

1) Baffle the Feeder

Almost every feeder needs a baffle. When you buy a feeder, get a baffle for it. Consider it part of the expense of the feeder because if you have squirrels you are going to need it.

A hanging feeder almost always needs a well-designed baffle above the feeder that is wide enough that a squirrel can’t get around it to get down to the feeder. If you hang the feeder from a shepherd’s hook pole, you’ll usually instead need a barrel squirrel or raccoon baffle that attaches to the pole below the level of the feeders so that the squirrel can’t climb up the pole to get to the feeder.

The only feeders I’ve never had to baffle in my yard have been four tube feeders hanging from tree branches that are full of only nyjer seed. As far as I can tell, my local squirrels don’t eat nyjer. Keep in mind though that if you mix anything else in with the nyjer – like sunflower hearts for example – you’ll need to baffle it because the squirrels will be happy to attack your feeder to get the seeds they like from the mix.

Bird Feeders on a Pole
Some Feeder Poles Let You Arrange the Hooks in Different Orientations. (I’ve Added a Barrel Baffle.)

2) Adjust the Feeder or the Hooks

Sometimes you can adjust a feeder to deter squirrels. For example, some feeders are designed so that the ports close when a squirrel or heavy bird lands on it. These feeders will come with directions on how to adjust them.

Or if you find that a squirrel is jumping onto the feeder, in some cases you may be able to turn the feeder so that the landing spot no longer works for the squirrel. (Squirrels are very acrobatic so this is a long shot but is possible depending on the specific situation.) This is especially worth trying in cases where the feeder is just at the edge of the squirrel’s jumping distance and you think a small tweak in orientation might get it just out of reach.

You might also be able to tweak a feeder’s position slightly by adjusting the hook it hangs from. For example, I have some of my feeders hanging on a dual shepherd’s hook pole where you can adjust which direction the hooks face. Sometimes moving the hook to a different orientation will put the feeder out of reach of the squirrel.

Cutting Down a Branch
Cutting Down a Branch

3) Cut Branches

If you’ve baffled your feeder but find that a squirrel is jumping from a nearby branch, consider whether you could trim or cut off the branch to remove the squirrel’s jumping off point. Keep in mind that squirrels typically can jump eight to ten feet. They might also drop from a greater distance from a branch high above if there is a decent landing spot for them.

Don’t be surprised if a branch that wasn’t a problem last year has grown out enough that it too close to the feeder this year. This is one of those cases where something that has been working for a while suddenly becomes a problem and you need to consider making an adjustment by either cutting the branch or moving the feeder.

Birdbath at Distance From Feeders
Birdbath at Distance From Feeders

4) Move Other Jumping Points

Watch to see if squirrels are jumping from other spots nearby. Keeping that eight to ten foot jumping distance in mind, you might need to move other objects out of that zone to keep squirrels off the feeder. It might be a bench or a bird bath or a decorative statue you have in the the yard. Think of the area around the feeder in a three dimensional bubble and try to keep that area clear of squirrel launching points.

Bird Feeders
Sometime You Need. to Move the Feeder

5) Move the Feeder

Sometimes the best solution is to move the feeder. While a feeder under a shady tree can be lovely and the tree branches surrounding it can be attractive to birds, sometimes those same branches are just too good an access point for squirrels and you may not want to cut off one or more of the branches. Or your feeder might be within jumping distance of something else that you can’t move, like your porch railing or garage roof. If squirrels are jumping from something you can’t move, then you probably will need to move the feeder.

Look for a spot where it is still within your sight so you can still enjoy watching birds using it but that is not directly under something a squirrel could drop down from and that is at least ten feet from anything a squirrel can jump from. That said, if you you can locate the feeder within a quick flight of cover (like bushes, tree branches or brush piles), your local feeder birds will have a better chance of evading predators like Cooper’s Hawks or Sharp-shin Hawks who like to hunt around busy bird feeders. When the feeder birds feel more secure, they are more likely to spend time at your feeders. So obviously, this approach takes some thought and maybe some experimentation to get the right balance.

Baffle and Pole
Baffle and Pole

6) Put the Feeder on a Pole

While I do have a few feeders hanging from tree branches, I’ve found that some types of feeders really need to be placed on a pole out of squirrel jumping range. In my yard, if you put a platform feeder or hopper style feeder under a tree branch, you are essentially offering a squirrel buffet so these feeders instead go on poles.

I also put my globe and cage type feeders on poles to keep squirrels from jumping on them and tipping the seed out. And I’ve finally gotten to the point where all of my suet feeders are hanging from shepherd’s hooks on poles.

If you do put a feeder on a pole, make sure you use a properly positioned barrel baffle on the pole itself and that the pole is placed outside of squirrel jumping range (8 to 10 feet typically.)

Squirrel Peeking Over a Baffle at A Squirrel Buster Feeder
Squirrel Peeking Over a Baffle at A Squirrel Buster Feeder

7) Get a Different Feeder

If you have baffled your feeder and for whatever reason, can’t move the feeder to another location, consider whether a different feeder would work better in that spot. Buying a different feeder can be expensive of course, but the right feeder in the right location can also save you a lot of money on birdseed (that doesn’t wind up in a squirrel’s belly) so can be worth it.

For example, I have two Squirrel Buster Plus feeders that hang from tree limbs. The ports on these feeders are designed to close with the weight of the squirrel on the feeder. I’ve found that as long as the feeder is placed so that there is nothing close enough for the squirrels to reach to the feeder’s sides from, the squirrels are kept out even if they climb on it. I did add disk baffles over these but only to add extra discouragement to the squirrels so they won’t bother the birds with repeated futile attempts to get into the feeders. These are not inexpensive feeders but positioned correctly, I’ve found they keep the squirrels out.

Squirrel Eating Suet
Squirrel Eating Suet

8) Use a Different Seed or Suet

While the squirrels in my yard prefer sunflower seed and love peanuts, they will eat anything (except nyjer seed) if they are hungry enough. When I first started putting safflower in some of my feeders, the squirrels would shun the safflower. But now they’ve adjusted so that they will readily eat safflower. But your squirrels might (at first at least) be pickier, so it is worth a try.

Our local squirrels are not fans of the hot pepper type of commercial suet and will typically shun it most of the year, but in the middle of the winter they will eat even that if they are hungry enough.

Squirrel Eating Sunflower Seed
Squirrel Eating Sunflower Seed

9) Feed the Squirrels

Another alternative approach is to set up a feeding station for the squirrels at a distance from the bird feeders to keep them busy over there instead of in your feeders. I did this for several years, by hanging an old bird feeder that was not squirrel proof right against a small tree’s main trunk where the squirrels could easily get into it. I filled it with black oil sunflower seed bought in bulk, which was cheaper than the safflower seed and hulled sunflower hearts I was using in my bird feeders. I also experimented with some squirrel foods as well.

I have mixed feelings about this approach. I found that it reduced the pressure on the bird feeders because the squirrels were mostly happy to go with this easiest to get into feeder, but I was still paying to feed the squirrels and I think the easy food source may actually have increased the number of squirrels in my yard. Once I finally got my regular bird feeders set up to keep squirrels out, I stopped feeding the squirrels (beginning in the summer months) and that’s worked better for me. But lots of people really enjoy squirrel antics and find feeding them to be fun.

Experiment!

There are multiple approaches to dealing with squirrels. Think of it like a puzzle to be solved. Start by watching to see how the squirrels are getting to your feeders. Then consider your options. Some approaches will cost more than others so you may want to consider the free options first (like moving an existing feeder for example.) But do keep in mind that spending $100 or more on a feeder and a baffle and/or pole might actually save you many hundreds of dollars in birdseed.

Good Luck!

Nancie

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2 thoughts on “Squirrel vs Bird Feeder: What is a Bird Watcher to Do?

  1. Thank you for another interesting & informative article. I appreciate all help I can get the keep those annoying squirrels off the feeders!

  2. I really enjoyed this blog on squirrels. I have been fighting them for years.I finally bought the squirrel buster on ur blog. Amazing. They are expensive but I’ll get me another next spring. In the meanwhile I have used slinky and glued baffles to the bottom of some feeders. My husband laughs at me and says I’ll never beat them. YES I WILL.

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