Fall and winter are times for maddening backyard battles between homeowners and squirrels fighting over bird feed. But experts say there’s a way to keep squirrels out of feeders and thwart their thievery — by feeding them. In turn, your backyard may have more harmony for birds and squirrels.
One common tactic is stocking feeders with seed squirrels dislike, such as safflower, nyjer, white proso millet and seed infused with capsaicin, a compound derived from hot peppers that makes mammals’ tongues smart. One option, for example, features nutritious sunflower meats infused with fiery habanero chili peppers. They’re a no-waste, no-mess feed, birds enjoy but squirrels dislike.
Some people find squirrels adorable, fascinating to watch and have nothing against them, even allowing them to share seed with birds. The real problem begins when squirrels take their share — and then some.
To combat this, consider adding a baffle to your bird feeder on a pole about 5 feet high so squirrels don’t jump over it. Bird feeders on poles can be set in open spaces where there’s no trees or structures that squirrels can jump from onto feeders. Try a “squirrel-proof” feeder that employs cages, or spring-loaded doors, keeping squirrels at bay. You can then offer food specific to squirrels’ taste preferences away from bird feeders.
Because squirrels are territorial, they’re less likely to go to other locations once they’re accustomed to eating in a designated place. Establishing a feeding space just for squirrels can satisfy their appetites and keep them out of bird feeders.
You can use an open feeder or scatter feed on the ground for easy access. Try 100% whole peanuts or mixes that include ingredients squirrels love. Another way to help squirrels thrive is to provide access to fresh, clean water.
More interesting than you may have thought
Some see squirrels as yard rats. But many find squirrels to be interesting creatures that are worth watching. Consider these facts:
- Squirrels can find food buried beneath 1 foot of snow.
- Squirrels’ front teeth never stop growing.
- Squirrels run zigzag patterns to escape predators.
- Squirrels “fake out” other squirrels and pretend to bury nuts to throw off potential thieves from their hiding places.
- When falling, squirrels use their tails both for balance and as parachutes. Plus, they can jump up to 20 feet and run 20 miles per hour.
- Squirrels can see behind them, but they’re blind at birth.
- When given a mixture of nuts, squirrels sort them by type before burying each variety in a different area.
- Squirrels can rotate their hind feet 180 degrees when descending trees and poles.
- Squirrels are one of the most important animals for helping spread oak trees. They store acorns in the ground but only recover about 70% of them, allowing forgotten acorns to grow into healthy trees.
For the birds
In cold weather, it’s important to provide high-quality choices for birds that offer the most fat, nutrients and energy. Look for black oil sunflower, which is rich in oil, attracting birds and providing energy.
Birds also love suet, the solid fat rendered from beef, venison or vegetables, which provides concentrated energy, helping them make it through freezing weather. Some suet cakes are formulated to attract the largest variety and number of birds as well as specific bird species. Birds are greatly attracted to the taste of hot and spicy suet cakes, and some even prefer them over non-spicy suet cakes.
By following squirrel-proofing tips and offering food birds and squirrels prefer in separate locations, you’ll see for yourself birds and squirrels can live harmoniously in your backyard while you enjoy watching both species’ entertaining antics.
For more information, visit coleswildbird.com, which provided information for this story. Family Features contributed to this story.
Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.