Squirrels: To Feed or Not To Feed?

Squirrel Sitting in a Feeder
Squirrel Sitting in a Feeder

Should you feed squirrels? Will feeding them keep them out of your bird feeders? If you put out food for birds, you are almost guaranteed to have other critters come to eat too. Keeping squirrels from dominating bird feeders and eating a large portion of the food can be a continuous challenge. This is the story of my experiment feeding squirrels in hopes of getting them to leave my bird feeders alone.

Squirrel Looking For Food on the Ground
Squirrel Looking For Food on the Ground

Early Squirrel Exclusion Attempts

I resisted the whole idea of feeding squirrels for quite a while. Determined to exclude them from the feeders, I experimented with different feeders and tried switching foods. Ground feeders and any feeder not well protected from squirrels was filled with safflower, a food they are not supposed to like. Suet feeders were filled with hot pepper suet, something else they are also not supposed to like. I put sunflower seed in Squirrel Buster Plus feeders and in a hanging feeder on a well baffled pole.

But that wasn’t enough. The squirrels greatly prefer sunflower seed to safflower, but if that is all they can get, they’ll eat the safflower. And in the winter when they are really hungry, they’ll eat pepper suet too if that is the only choice.

Feeding Squirrels As A Distraction From Bird Feeders

So one year I decided to give feeding them a try. The idea is that you offer squirrels food in a separate area of the yard away from bird feeders. That way you can offer them less expensive food, keeping them out of more expensive birdseed. It also helps redirect the wild squirrel craziness to an alternate area of the yard away from the bird feeders.

My "Squirrel Feeder" is Popular with Squirrels
My “Squirrel Feeder” is Popular with Squirrels

Offering Squirrels Less Expensive Seed

I started by using an old feeder that I’d had for decades which is not squirrel proof. This was my “squirrel feeder.” Each morning I would top it off with black oil sunflower seed. It hung right next to a small tree trunk. Squirrels could reach it from the trunk or sit in the feeder and pig out. Squirrels will work hard to get into any bird feeder, but they tend to get into the easiest one first. Making this one easy encouraged them to eat there and not in the other feeders.

Squirrel Eating Spilled Seed
Squirrel Eating Spilled Seed

They would usually spill some on the ground. The result was typically one squirrel in the feeder and two on the ground below. That makes three squirrels that not in the bird feeders.

I filled it with black oil sunflower seeds in the shell to slow them down. As well as being more expensive, squirrels eat the hulled version so quickly that it is like watching a vacuum cleaner suck seeds. With seeds in the shell, they have to dig through empty shells in the feeder to find a fresh seed. Then they have to take time to shell it and eat it. The mess of the shells under the feeder does mean you need to periodically clean up under it however.

Offering Squirrels Block of Squirrel Food

I did experiment with a block of squirrel food (Pine Tree Farm’s Bushy Tail Seed Cake) but wasn’t really impressed. Squirrels are supposed to like corn, but they didn’t like the corn portion of this cake. They would pick out what they liked from the cake and let the rest sit on the ground. There seemed to be a lot of waste.

It had some good reviews on Amazon though, so your mileage may vary. (The squirrels in my yard eat things they aren’t supposed to like and don’t eat other things they are supposed to like. You will probably find that you need to experiment.)

The Squirrels Loved the Nut Cake
The Squirrels Loved the Nut Cake

Offering Squirrels a Nut Cake

I also tried a large nut block (Pine Tree Farms Nutsie Seed Cake.) Squirrels really loved this and it would keep one busy for long periods of time each day. While these blocks can last for weeks when only birds are eating it, hungry squirrels can eat the smaller version in a day. The larger version would only last a couple of days. This made it more expensive than I liked. I’d rather feed it to the birds, many of whom also love this cake. Now I baffle this so squirrels can’t get to it.

Corn Squirrelog in Corn Trapper Feeder
Corn Squirrelog in Corn Trapper Feeder

Offering Squirrels Corn

While the squirrels weren’t interested in the corn in the squirrel block, they did seem to like the dry corn on the cob. This was the type sold by the bag in bird stores. I tried offering it two ways. WoodLink’s Corn Trapper feeder (above) is easy to fill and hang. But after awhile the squirrels figured out how to get the corn cob out of the feeder. (They would detach one one side of the hanger and pull out the corn cob.)

Squirrel Carrying Off a Corn Cob
Squirrel Carrying Off a Corn Cob

I will admit that it was funny to watch a squirrel carry it off, holding the cob in its mouth by one end like a waving baton. But I really wanted it left in place so that it would distract multiple squirrels during the day. So I started using this feeder to hold a Squirrelog instead. This worked out well as the Squirrelog fits in too tightly for a squirrel to remove it. The packaging suggests that this feeder could also be used to offer fruit or nesting material to birds. I may experiment with at some point.

The Nut Flavored Squirrelog on Erva's Feeder
The Nut Flavored Squirrelog on Erva’s Feeder

Erva’s metal Squirrel Platform Feeder worked better for securing corn cobs, as they didn’t figure out how to remove them. This feeder (shown above with a Squirrelog) is just a sheet of bent metal you attach to a tree trunk with screws. It has a blunt nail-like spike at one end where you impale the corn cob. A squirrel can sit on the metal platform and eat the corn off the cob. I got this one from my local bird store. I don’t see it on Amazon.

Offering Squirrels Compressed Squirrel Food

As you can see in previous pictures, I also tried cylindrical compressed squirrel food sold in bird stores as a corn alternative. They typically come two in a pack and are said to be the equivalent of 12-24 ears of corn, making them last longer and yet be more economical.

The squirrels ignored C&S’s Sweet Corn Squirrelog at first (even in mid-winter.) After I tried feeding them corn cobs right next to it, they finally seemed to get the idea and gave it a try. They would nibble on it now and then.

They seemed to much prefer C&S’s Nut’N Sweet Corn Squirrelog with Peanuts flavor, which got eaten more quickly. (Notice the trend? Squirrels in my yard prefer nuts to corn, which I suspect is probably better for them anyway.)

While a corn cob could be gone in an hour or two, these logs typically lasted weeks instead, making them a lower-maintenance offering. They come with a hole pre-drilled through the middle so they can be easily put on the spike type feeder. They are a very tight fit in the Corn Trapper feeder, although once they’ve been nibbled on for awhile, they’ll fit in it more easily.

The corn or Squirrelogs can keep another squirrel busy and away from the bird feeders for awhile. Still, if there is sunflower seed or even safflower seed at hand that they can get into, they’ll often favor that over this squirrel food. The squirrels did eat these though. And every bite of this that they ate is that much less birdseed eaten. But they don’t prefer these over birdseed. If they can get into a bird feeder, these aren’t be enough of a distraction to keep them completely out.

Birds Eating Squirrel’s Food

There was one interesting side effect of feeding the corn on the cob. Some birds will eat corn kernels left on the ground by the squirrels. For that matter, if squirrels were not eating the sunflower seed in the squirrel feeder, birds would. Seemed fair! I didn’t notice any birds eating the compressed Squirrelogs for a long time. Eventually some of the Downy Woodpeckers would nibble on it.

Squirrel Eating a Corn Cob on the Erva Feeder
Squirrel Eating a Corn Cob on the Erva Feeder

Joke Squirrel Feeders

There are all kinds of feeders made for squirrels, many of which are designed to make the squirrels look foolish. They are probably funny to watch. But my goal was something to keep squirrels out of the bird feeder area without commotion that disturbs birds. So squirrel feeders with bells or that swing the squirrels through the air didn’t really appeal to me. I picked the more stationary options. That was just my personal preference.

Is It Worth Feeding Squirrels?

So is it worth feeding the squirrels? Maybe. Maybe not. Feeding squirrels something else means that they eat less of the food meant for the birds. You might feel a little more in control of things because you are deciding what you are willing to share with them. And that reduces stress. There are also many people who greatly enjoy watching squirrels. They have fun feeding them and that’s totally fine.

Squirrels Can Suck Up Hulled Sunflower Seed Like a Vaccuum
Squirrels Can Suck Up Hulled Sunflower Seed Like a Vaccuum

But if you set up your feeders right, you don’t have to feed squirrels to keep them out of feeders. During the period when I was feeding squirrels, many of my feeders were successfully squirrel proofed. But I still used some ground level feeders and broadcast seed on the ground in the winter.

Even when I was feeding them separately, squirrels still got into these low feeders and ate seed on the ground. Feeding them helped, but didn’t solve the problem. Over time, I realized that the number of squirrels in my yard was multiplying. More food resulted in more squirrels. That is what convinced me to stop feeding them.

These days, I no longer use ground feeders. I still do spread a limited amount of seed on the ground in the winter for sparrows. I’ve got all of my feeders on poles and/or well baffled now so squirrels don’t get into any of the feeders. They do pick seed off the ground under the feeders though.

My Advice on Dealing With Squirrels

Squirrels are very persistent problem solvers. Unless you can make it physically impossible for them to get into a feeder, they will find the weakness and get into it. My advice is to invest in squirrel proof feeders like the Squirrel Buster Plus or Squirrel Buster Classic. Another option is to put your feeders on well-baffled poles.

When I first started seriously baffling feeders and using more squirrel proof feeders, squirrels still made continuous runs at the feeders. Even if unsuccessful, this it can scare birds away temporarily. But if there really is no way for them to get into a feeder, they will stop. Yes, every now and then one gives it a try just to test if something has changed. Mostly they leave them alone though.

Don’t count on claims that squirrels won’t eat certain types of seed (other than maybe nyjer) and don’t feel that you have to feed them to distract them. Instead, set up your feeders so that squirrels simply can’t get into them. Then if you want to offer food to squirrels separately, fine.

How do you deal with squirrels or other critters in your yard? Have you tried feeding them? What do you think? Reasonable or crazy?

Nancie

Note: This post was originally written in 2016 and revised in 2019.

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7 thoughts on “Squirrels: To Feed or Not To Feed?

  1. I go to Goodwill or similar, and get big stainless steel pot lids that don’t have a matching pot. Then I either drill a hole in it so I can attach a feeder with a wire to the lid handle, then attach a THIN wire from the handle up to the branch or whatever the hanging spot. They work really well. To keep off squirrels and as umbrellas to keep the feed dry, when it rains. I do have to locate the feeders at least four feet from the trunk. Squirrels are really good jumpers and amazing acrobats. Use a very thin wire to hand the lid and feeder. I’ve had squirrels able to shinny up and down a wire thinner than I’d think they could hang on to.
    For the feeders hung on a shepherd’s crook, I’ve made cut a big “cone” out of thin sheet metal with a big enough hole to fit over the shephard crook shaft, and secure it with clamp and nut, used by electricians for metal conduit. You can buy them for 30 cents at hardware store. The cone has to be at least 2 feet in diameter. They’re easy to cut with a hand shear, including the center hole. Work like a charm, inexpensive and pretty easy to make.

  2. I feed the squirrels! So many people feed the birds. Every morning I go out and place a hand full of sunflower, peanuts,corn, pumpkins seed mix on every other stepping stone lining my garden. I also have a heated ground level bird bath. have 9 squirrels, 4 woodpeckers, several cardinal, morning doves and bluejays that come to eat, drink and bathe. All is eaten and there’s no clean up. Everyone knows what time breakfast is served and the spacing gives everyone their own space. I love the mix group of critters.

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