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 your bird feeder must surely be a food source put out just for him, what can you do? You might think you have to accept that if you feed birds that squirrels will get into the feeders and there is nothing you can do. 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 squirrels get into the feeder(s), think creatively and be willing to 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 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 usually needs a well-designed baffle above the feeder. The baffle needs to be wide enough that a squirrel can’t get around it to get down to the feeder. A feeder hung on a shepherd’s hook pole instead needs a barrel squirrel or raccoon baffle that attaches to the pole below feeder level. This ensures that the squirrel can’t climb up the pole to get to the feeder.

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

Bird Feeders and Baffle on Pole
The Hooks on some poles can be arranged different ways. (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 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 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, some of my feeders hang on a dual shepherd’s hook pole where you can adjust which way 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 Tree 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 too close to the feeder this year. This is a case where something that has been working suddenly becomes a problem. You need to consider 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. It might be a bench or a bird bath or a decorative statue. Move objects out of the eight to ten foot jumping zone to keep squirrels off the feeder. Think of the area around the feeder in a three dimensional bubble. 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 branches. Or your feeder might be within jumping distance of something else 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 on it. But don’t put it directly under something a squirrel could drop down from. And it should be 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), feeder birds will have a better chance of evading predators like Cooper’s Hawks or Sharp-shin Hawks who hunt around busy bird feeders. When 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 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 on shepherd’s hook poles.

If you do put a feeder on a pole, make sure to use a properly positioned barrel baffle on the pole itself. Place the pole 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 might be expensive, but the right feeder in the right location can 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. These feeders are designed so a squirrel’s weight on the feeder closes the ports. If they climb on it, they are locked out. I’ve found that as long as the feeder is placed so a squirrel can’t sit on something else to reach the feeder’s side, they are kept out.

I did add disk baffles over these, but only to add extra discouragement so squirrels 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 peanuts, they will eat anything (except nyjer) 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.

My local squirrels are not fans of the hot pepper type of commercial suet. They typically shun it most of the year, but in mid-winter they will eat it 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 squirrels at a distance from the bird feeders. This keeps 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 they 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. 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 squirrels. I also think the easy food source increased the number of squirrels in my yard. Once I got my bird feeders set up to keep squirrels out, I stopped feeding squirrels (beginning in the summer.) 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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