Bird feeders are a great way to attract birds to your yard, but they can also invite unwanted four-legged critters looking for a free meal. Squirrels are a common culprit, and they are much better problem solvers than most people realize. You'll find an impressive selection of squirrel-proof feeders on the market, but sometimes these fail or the clever creature solves the problem. Rather than dropping big bucks again, you might try a combination of features you haven't yet tested or a DIY design that's only a hardware store trip away.
Squirrel-proof bird feeders are not a new trend. The ongoing battle of man versus critter has yielded some impressive features and modern designs with variable results. Caged feeders keep most squirrels from reaching the seed stash at the center, while other models feature tiny access holes just large enough for a beak. Feeders with weight-sensitive perches cut off access to food when anything without hollow bones gets too close. Some squirrels can outsmart the priciest of designs, however, or you might also find other wildlife, such as possums and deer, raiding your supply.
A baffle could be the answer to outsmarting the resourceful squirrels in your yard. This dome-shaped device sits above the birdseed and the squirrel's reach, shielding it from uninvited critters. Best of all, they're widely available at pet supply stores. Look for a pole and baffle system, or if you're adding oneto your existing feeder, repurpose a metal or plastic domed container to do the job. Make sure it's at least five feet off of the ground to keep squirrels from jumping over it to access the food.
PVC pipe or extra plastic drain pipe could also function as an effective squirrel-proof bird feeder, as long as it's the proper shape and size. Look for sections that are at least 24 inches long to keep squirrels from reaching the feed holes if they are hanging from the top of the feeder. The surprisingly agile creatures can also cling onto narrow structures, so make sure your pipes are at least four inches in diameter. Search online for DIY tutorials.
If you're building a birdfeeder, use a one-inch pipe cut into half-inch sections to create a grid of openings too narrow for a squirrel to reach through. Connect the segments in a hexagonal pattern, like a honeycomb, to create a decorative barrier that only your feathered friends can fit through. Use various sizes of pipes to create a unique design, making sure not to use any wider than 1-1/2 inches. Spray paint plastic pipes for a pop of color and leave metal pipes to the elements for a natural patina.
Half of the fun of a bird feeder is seeing your feathered visitors enjoy their feast. Make your see-through feeder with an old aquarium tilted on its side to help keep the elements out. Close the opened end with additional found materials, such as a metal screen, thick wood, or anything else that a sneaky critter can't easily tear or chew open. If you don't have an aquarium, use sheets of glass or acrylic on a sturdy frame. Incorporate the hexagonal pipe assembly into the design to complete your work.
While some bird feeders work better than others, depending on your surroundings, their effectiveness is only as squirrel-proof as their location. Keep hungry pests from opening latches and lids by mounting your feeders at least 10 feet away from anything a squirrel can climb — remember, the agile creatures can effortlessly jump seven feet horizontally or leap from a neighboring tree.
You might not have ten feet to spare in your backyard or patio. In that case, string a sturdy wire between two posts with your bird feeder in the middle. Hang plastic bottles on the line by cutting a hole in the bottom and stringing them lengthwise. Add enough containers to fill the space on each side of the birdseed, adding blocks of wood or other found materials to complement your decor. When a squirrel or other creature tries to climb toward the bird feeder, the bottles will spin, causing the critter to lose its hold.
Squirrels can quickly scale a bird feeder pole with their nimble paws. Some DIYers use petroleum jelly to lubricate the post, but this practice can prove harmful to the squirrels over time. A safer and more entertaining tactic is the Slinky method. Attach the inexpensive toy to the base of the feeder, leaving it to hang. When a squirrel reaches the birdseed, he'll unknowingly grab the Slinky, causing it to unravel.
If your bird feeder includes such tasty treats as sunflower seeds and peanuts, you may be doing more to attract squirrels than you thought. Swap out your birdseed of choice for a feed mix that's less appetizing to scavengers, such as one with canary or nyjer seeds. Squirrels don't like the bitter flavor of safflower seeds, nor do they enjoy millet. You can also try adding cayenne pepper to the feed. The spice is harmless to birds but will discourage squirrels and other pests.
Keeping a hungry and resourceful squirrel out of your birdfeeder may be a losing battle. Rather than putting more energy into thwarting them, consider building a separate feeder for the squirrels in your neighborhood. Get creative with your design, making it attractive and easily accessible year-round, or construct something simple, like a tray feeder. Stock up on foods squirrels love, including corn, nuts, and fresh fruits.
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