How to stop grey squirrels from stealing bird food
If you feed the birds in Britain you’re almost certain to see a grey squirrel or two. They are incredibly common and they have a knack of knowing when a bird feeder is full of nutritious nibbles and peanuts. It’s hard not to admire the tenacity of this grey garden marauder – she’ll use her balancing skills and devil may care attitude to health and safety, risking all for a palmful of peanuts. If only they’d take what they need and move on we might more easily forgive their reckless behaviour but, alas, it’s hard to ignore them when they can empty a feeder faster than it can almost be filled, and the final straw is when we can see them burying and caching seeds for later, perhaps for late winter, when they’ll really need the food. The problem is, though, that the squirrel is unlikely to ever dig them back up and that hurts, as good bird food – quite frankly – isn’t cheap. So what can be done?
The first thing to consider is that grey squirrels are indeed wildlife and it’s hard to pick and choose what turns up at a feeding station; however, we can do plenty of things to mitigate our losses and protect our peanuts and seeds from grey squirrels.
Unfortunately for the grey squirrel, many of us see their actions as ‘theft’ at the feeding station. Slightly dramatic perhaps but very understandable, nonetheless, as it’s very hard to feed small birds – like Coal Tits - when there’s a grey squirrel bouncing around the feeding station like an untied balloon flying around the room of a child’s party. It’s entertaining to watch, but it’s a little distracting and the smaller birds often lose out and are forced to venture into a neighbour’s garden. We may not see these birds again on our feeders until the squirrel decides to move on. Fortunately, however, there are plenty of ways to outwit the grey squirrel and encourage her to gently move on to a place where peanuts are unprotected – perhaps a neighbour’s garden!
Squirrels arrive at gardens in search of either food or shelter. If they can find both, you may well have a “friend” for life, or, at least until the food supply runs out. It’s hard to deny any wildlife a place to shelter, and a well-planned garden with numerous bird feeders and a pond or bird bath will be like hitting the squirrel jackpot. Don’t despair, though, here’s a few simple ways to stop grey squirrels from stealing bird food.
If you feed peanuts – invest in a squirrel “resistant” feeder
There’s one thing worse than squirrels pilfering the bird food and that’s squirrels damaging bird feeders. Squirrels do not respect the latest gizmo from the garden centre and if it’s not tough, robust and yet safe and accessible for birds you’re wasting your money, as it could be destroyed in a single squirrel’s supper sitting. If the bird feeder is not metal (or one of the new “bite-proof” plastics emerging onto the market) it will – along with the peanuts inside it – get eaten. Not the entire thing of course – no that would be greedy. Just enough to render it useless and deliver a fatal blow big enough for a greedy grey to show you her favourite peanut disappearing trick.
Squirrel-resistant bird feeders are available in all shapes and sizes but normally are either caged or not caged; for example, this Nuttery Cage Seed Feeder (below) is caged. It was designed to keep squirrels away from the food and yet allow small birds to slip easily between the bars and feed from the tough polycarbonate tube, or stainless steel tube if you are feeding peanuts.
[The Nuttery is also available as a seed feeder]
Birds can take several days to get used to feeding from a caged feeder, but they do thereafter rather enjoy the relative safety of being behind bars and out of reach from predators. Choose cage feeders if you are looking to completely shut out squirrels.
There has never been such an array of cage feeders available on the market and they are now available for suet and mealworms as well as seed and peanuts. More recently, these feeding fortresses have received the attention they deserve from product designers and manufacturers to make them look less menacing in gardens and actually add a pleasant focal point, whilst still awarding the necessary protection and bird safety.
Some premium quality metal feeders offer squirrel-resistance without the cage – these feeders are really offering a feeder that’s resistant to squirrel damage; however, grey squirrels will be able to remove food from them by using the same feeding ports the birds use. This kind of feeder – like the Droll Yankee premium metal feeders below – are the best ones to choose if you don’t mind feeding the occasional squirrel, but you do mind them destroying bird feeders. The best manufacturers – like Droll Yankee – back their claims with long-term guarantees. The ones below come with a Lifetime Guarantee against squirrel damage.
This open-style bird feeder can be customised to strengthen its squirrel-resistance; for example, it’s common to suspend a feeder from a branch and that’s making life very easy for a world-class athlete like the grey squirrel who will boldly shimmy down the branch and swing like Tarzan on the feeder until it drops to the floor and breaks open - spilling the peanuts onto the ground. This can be prevented quite easily by investing in a Bird Feeding Station (see below) and moving the feeder into open ground where the squirrel has to be more tenacious to take titbits. This won’t stop her entirely – it will make her much more cautious and slow her pilfering down - but you will at least be able to see the whites of her eyes and see who you are dealing with.
If you’d rather keep the bird feeder suspended from a branch there’s a special Squirrel Dome available that fits above just about any bird feeder. It’s dome-shaped, durable and bite-proof polycarbonate surface is slippery and unstable to squirrels, which stops them from gaining access to a suspended bird feeder. The Squirrel Dome also keeps cats off feeders as they, too, can’t hold on to the dome.
To stop the Grey Squirrel in her tracks, we can go yet another step further and employ the services of a Squirrel Baffle (see below left) attaching it to the pole of the feeding station. As the name suggests, this accessory baffles squirrels and keeps them further away from the bird feeder. In fear of encouraging you to create a bird feeding station to look more like a space station - something possible of attempting a moon landing is not our intention - however, fitting a Rain Guard (see below right) can serve two purposes: it’s designed to keep food dry and safe for birds and yet it, too, can make life a little tougher for grey squirrels. Keeping food dry is its main purpose, though.
After trialling several of these unique devices and then observing how the Grey Squirrel adjusts her approach to overcome the new obstacle, it’s very hard not to admire her ingenuity and tenacity. These gifts from the gods may well be squandered on a lifetime’s search of food and busting weak feeders; however, it’s not really their fault that they find themselves in our gardens as they were introduced into England early in the twentieth century, because someone thought they were cute. Cute they most certainly are. Cunningly cute with a hint of dashing as they throw all four paws around a cheap plastic feeder and ride it like a space rocket, which is very entertaining until the moment it breaks.
Bird feeding stations can begin to look like Christmas trees when they’re fully accessorised and that’s a small price to pay for protecting good quality bird food. For the belt and braces approach add a Squirrel Slinky (see below) and peanuts and bird feeders are protected from squirrels.
If all this talk of accessory buying and outwitting squirrels sounds like too much hard work don’t worry, as we’ve been keeping an ace up our sleeve - the first is the simplest and it’s easily overlooked:
Swop to a bird food squirrels don’t like: if you feed peanuts – you are (more) likely to feed Grey Squirrels. That’s not 100% correct, but it is fair to say that peanuts are more likely than some foods to attract a squirrel. We have never, for example, seen a picture of a squirrel tucking into Niger Seed (please send us a photo if you have captured that as we’d like to see it). Niger seed isn’t appreciated by squirrels and the nature of the tiny, almost weightless, seeds doesn’t suit the way it feeds. If you’d like to see a grumpy squirrel – feed Niger seed from a Niger Seed Feeder like the ones below.
Niger seed shows a cold shoulder to squirrels but it’s worshipped by Goldfinches, Siskins and Long-tailed Tits. The problem is that, these birds won’t just “arrive” – they are the opposite of squirrels and require cajoling. Thankfully the wooing of Niger worshippers requires just three simple things: Niger seed, a Niger feeder and a little patience. Patience as we know can’t be switched on and off like a tap – it requires training.
Here’s how to train your Goldfinches:
Don’t wait until a squirrel arrives to commence feeding Niger seed – initially feed Niger at the same time of feeding peanuts or another bird food of choice. This will allow plenty of time for the Goldfinches to find your feeder. Then when the squirrel arrives, remove the peanut feeder and leave the Niger seed feeder where it is, to allow the Goldfinches to continue to feed. The squirrel – as inquisitive as she is – will venture onto the Niger feeder in search of food only to find out that it, a). isn’t accessible, and b). that it’s not what they are looking for. Eventually the squirrel will introduce itself to a neighbour and you can replace the peanut feeder. It won’t take long for the birds to find it again, if you put it in the same place. Some squirrels return, some squirrels do not. It really depends on what they find to eat at the other side of the fence.
Try a different approach:
Some garden birders feel sorry at this point for the squirrel and that’s quite understandable. Bear in mind that the squirrel is a master of food sourcing and is unlikely to go hungry; however, they are of course all God’s creatures and that’s why many birders choose to provide Grey Squirrels with their very own feeder, and then fill it with a seed mix or peanuts. Bill Oddie takes this approach in his garden and it’s common for squirrels to show the decorum of sticking to “their” feeder – as long as it remains full of seed – and leaving the birds to consume whatever remains in the bird feeder which – by this point – now resembles a space ship. You see the squirrel might be capable of amazing feats of dexterity but that doesn’t mean she won’t take the easy option and feed from a feeder that makes it nice and easy for them to feed from. To engage in this tactic, all we need is a Squirrel feeder and some Squirrel Food.
If by now you are feeling that time’s too precious to engage in tactics to outwit the Grey Squirrel or – like the rest of us – you feel your squirrel is capable of assailing any configuration of poles, feeders, baffles and all the aforementioned solutions don’t worry, this one is simplicity itself.
Buy a weight triggered anti-squirrel bird feeder and feed the birds, not the squirrels.
These feeders take the fun out of outwitting the squirrel as the manufacturer has gone through the torment of creating a device that’s capable of excluding them whilst including the birds. Generally these innovative feeders work because part of the feeder is spring-loaded and the squirrels weight forces the feeding ports to close – which means the squirrels cannot feed. As soon as the squirrel jumps off the feeder, the feeding ports are opened – which means the birds are once again safe to feed. This of course will be too much for the squirrel to take in so she will repeat the process several times before accepting that the feeder only seems to work for the birds and not her. All the feeders below are safe for birds and detested by squirrels.
If you would like us to suggest additional ways to help defeat squirrels please email firstname.lastname@example.org – if you can attach a photo of your garden we’ll happily come up with a few special solutions to help you feed the birds and not the squirrels.