If you put out food for birds, you are almost guaranteed to have other critters come to eat too. In my yard, this means a slew of squirrels and a huge groundhog (although I haven’t seen the groundhog this year, so I’m hopeful it has moved!) The squirrels cause me all kinds of grief, but to put it in perspective, at least I don’t have raccoons or bears carrying off the feeders entirely!
Keeping squirrels from dominating the bird feeders and eating a large portion of the food has been a continuous challenge. I’ve experimented with different types of seed, different types of feeders and different ways of protecting the seed and feeders from the squirrels. I’ve had some luck, but my yard still isn’t squirrel free. So for the past six months or so I’ve been experimenting with a different approach to keeping squirrels out of the feeders: feeding them!
I resisted the whole idea of feeding squirrels for quite a while. I was determined to simply exclude them from the feeders. I stopped serving sunflower seed in any feeder that wasn’t well protected from squirrels. The ground feeders and another feeder hanging near the backdoor that the squirrels can get to are instead filled with safflower seed, which they are not supposed to like. And I’ve filled the suet feeders with hot pepper flavors of commercial suet, something they are also not supposed to like. I put the 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 the pepper suet too if that is the only choice.
I decided to give feeding them a try last fall. The idea is that you offer food to the squirrels in a separate area of the yard away from the 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.
I started by using an old feeder that I’ve had for decades that is not squirrel proof to create a squirrel feeder. Each morning I top it off with sunflower seed. This feeder hangs right next to a small tree trunk and the squirrels can either reach over to it from the trunk or just 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, so making this one easy encourages them to eat here and not in the other feeders.
They will usually spill some, so typically there will be one squirrel in the feeder and two on the ground below. That makes three squirrels that aren’t in the bird feeders. I fill 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 the seeds in the shell, they have to dig through empty shells in the feeder to find a fresh seed and then take time to shell it and eat it. The mess of the shells that collects under the feeder does mean that you need to periodically vacuum up under it however.
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 in 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 has 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.)
I also tried a large nut block (Pine Tree Farms Nutsie Seed Cake.) The squirrels really love 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 and the larger version would only last a couple of days, making it more expensive than I’d like. I’d rather feed it to the birds, many of whom also love this cake, so I currently have this type of food hung up and baffled so the squirrels can’t get to it.
While the squirrels weren’t interested in the corn in the squirrel block, they do seem to like the dry corn on the cob sold by the bag in bird stores. I’ve tried offering it two ways. WoodLink’s Corn Trapper feeder (above) is easy enough 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.)
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. I’m currently using this feeder to hold a Squirrelog instead and this is working out well as the Squirrelog fits in too tightly for a squirrel to remove it from the feeder. The packaging suggests that this feeder could also be used to offer fruit or nesting material to birds, which is interesting and something I may experiment with at some point.
Erva’s metal Squirrel Platform Feeder works better for securing corn cobs, as at least so far, they haven’t figured out how to remove them. This feeder (shown above with a Squirrelog) is really just a sheet of bent metal that 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.
As you can see in the previous pictures, I’ve also tried the cylindrical compressed squirrel food products bird stores sell as an alternative to the corn. They typically are sold two in a pack are meant 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 a first (even in mid-winter) but after I tried feeding them corn cobs right next to it, they finally seemed to get the idea and gave it a try and they will nibble on it now and then.
They seem to much prefer C&S’s Nut’N Sweet Corn Squirrelog with Peanuts flavor, which gets eaten more quickly. (Notice the trend? The squirrels in my yard prefer nuts to corn, which I suspect is probably better for them anyway.) While a corn cob can be gone in an hour or two, these logs typically last 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, although 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 do eat these and every bite of this that they eat is that much less birdseed they will eat. But they don’t prefer these over birdseed so if they can get into a bird feeder, these won’t be enough of a distraction to keep them completely out.
One interesting side effect of feeding the corn on the cob is that there are some birds that will eat the corn kernels left on the ground by the squirrels. For that matter, if the squirrels are not eating the sunflower seed in the squirrel feeder, the birds will get into it. Seems fair! I haven’t noticed any birds eating the compressed Squirrelogs.
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 I’m really looking for something to keep the squirrels out of the bird feeder area without a lot of commotion that can disturb the 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.
So is it worth feeding the squirrels? Maybe. While many of my feeders have been successfully squirrel proofed, if the squirrels had no access to seed, the reality is that they would be making continuous runs at the feeders anyway. Even when they don’t succeed, it disrupts the birds and causes chaos. I’ve seen squirrels run right through groups of birds, seemingly to chase them away from food they are eating that the squirrel wants. And a squirrel making runs at a bird feeder that they can’t get into because it is baffled, still scares the birds away.
Squirrels are also very persistent problem solvers. It took me many months to figure out just where to hang the suet to mostly keep them out of it. When I’d tweak the placement to make it hard for them, they would just keep at it until they figured out how to get into it. Unless you can make it physically impossible for them to get into a feeder, they will find the weakness and get into it.
Because some birds really prefer eating on or near the ground, I’m not willing to discontinue using ground feeders. And I do scatter a limited amount of seed on the ground for the juncos and sparrows in the winter months because I really like these birds and that is how they like to eat, so that means the squirrels have easy access to some of the bird’s food. Feeding squirrels something else means that they eat less of the food meant for the birds and I feel a little more in control of things because I’m deciding what I’m willing to share with them. And that makes me less stressed. It’s not an ideal solution but it’s what I’m doing now.
How do you deal with squirrels or other critters in your yard? Have you tried feeding them? What do you think? Reasonable or crazy?
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