Strategies for making Bird Feeders feed only birds

Bird Feeders not Squirrel Feeders
 How to make Bird Feeders feed only the birds not other animals.

Reduce Foraging
Reduce Access

Bird feeders were the best things ever invented for animal damage controllers. By increasing the food supply, bird feeders encourage the rapid growth of animal populations. The technical term for this is called, increasing the carrying capacity of the land. With higher populations, animals will eventually seek to enter your home for shelter.

fox squirrel
Stop Birdseed
Stealing Squirrels
Bird Feeders directly benefit the following animal species, some of which can cause extensive property damage:
  • Rodents, such as flying squirrels, gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), fox squirrels (Sciurus niger), western gray (Sciurus griseus), and tassel-eared (Sciurus aberti) red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), mice, chipmunks, voles, and rats
  • Carnivores, coyotes, opossums, skunks, bears, raccoons
  • Birds such as, geese, ducks
Bird Feeders nourish wildlife in one of two ways:
  1. Foraging - Food falls to the ground below the feeder allowing a wide variety of animals to eat.
  2. Direct access - This method is the familiar method with squirrels who are purported to always find a way to the feeder.

Reducing Foraging

Don�t buy mixed bird seed

Birds like Blue Jays prefer sunflower seeds. They will dump seed onto the ground seed until they find the next sunflower kernel. It is better to buy more bird feeders and put a single kind of seed into each one. This way, birds will fly to the feed they prefer.

Thistle Seed (Nyger)

We have found that squirrels (generally speaking) don't eat thistle seed. (We have gotten e-mails from people who claimed that squirrels were eating thistle seed. I wonder if squirrels were really hungry.) However, mice do. So you should be sure that you don't allow thistle seed to reach the ground either. Failure to reduce the food reaching the ground will only increase your mouse population, who will then enter your home. Our experience tells us that when mice enter a home, it is only a short while until squirrels enter. Note how the photo shows a bucket attached below the thistle feeder. We would encourage you to cut small holes in the bottom of the bucket to allow rain water to escape. You may also cut out the bottom and cover it with mosquito netting.

Safflower Seed

We have read and heard from a kind e-mailer that safflower seeds are not enjoyed by squirrels. Nevertheless, we do understand that some squirrels will still eat the seed. So this technique is not fool proof. We have been told that the seed is taken regularly by chickadee, titmouse, house finch, and cardinal (even from the perch.). Info from J.W. of Billerica, MA.

Recapture the seed

Modify your feeders so that spilled food gets caught by a basin or tray before reaching the ground. This also requires you to frequently empty these trays so they don�t overflow. You must also make sure that the basins can allow water to pass through, otherwise they will get too heavy and possibly break the feeder. One method would be to cut out the bottom of a bucket and then line it with mosquito netting (aka window screen). The mesh is open enough to let the water flow through but not the seed. [Photo by Stephen Vantassel]

You may wonder how are you going to feed the ground feeders, like mourning doves? The best way I can think of is to lay out a blanket and scatter the food onto it. When the feeding is done simply take up the blanket and store it away till the next feeding.


Cayenne Pepper in Bird Seed Doesn't Always Work

One e-mail respondent said that this didn't work for her. The Squirrels still ate the feed. There are a couple of issues though. First how much did she mix into the seed and what was the strength of the Pepper? Of course the grays may say, easy bad tasting food is better than starving.

People have asked us regarding the safety of mixing capsaicin in with the bird seed to repel squirrels from eating the seed. Here is one reply from a couple of scientists.

"I asked Russ Mason, an expert on chemical repellents, whether birds are affected by capsaicin. Here's his reply: "No--the ethmoid branch of the trigeminal nerve innervates the eyes, nose, and oral cavity. This is the nerve responsible for mediation of chemical irritation. There is no evidence that birds code capsaicin (red pepper) as an irritant at concentrations as high as 20,000 ppm (the hottest chili is about 2,000 ppm). Mammals like squirrels (rats, mice) reject capsicum concentrations as low as 1-10 ppm." In other words, birds are insensitive to red pepper, period. They could be irritated by excessive dust, however. Robert H. Schmidt, Associate Professor, Dept. of Fisheries and Wildlife, Utah State University.

Jason Watkins says, "I am an avid bird feeder, and have used cayenne pepper to deter the squirrels in my mixes. I have observed that powdered cayenne in a mix will aggravate the birds as the powder can fly into their eyes easily as it is avaoided by the squirrels. The pepper doesn't bother the birds' tastebuds but will still cause topical aggravation/pain as it will to the one who mixes the food, especially in the eyes. Because of this I have ceased using cayenne pepper in this way.

I do however still use the cayenne in my suet mix. I make my own suet and add quite a lot of cayenne to it. The squirrels will only eat a tiny bit at a time, if at all, and the birds seem to prefer the mix over my recipe without the cayenne. I think that the pepper "tied" up in the lard, peanut butter and other ingredients is "safe" for the birds, as the powder does not fly freely but is contained in the homogenous mix. In addition, I have never observed a bird that appeared to be affected by the suet mix, like I noticed with the dry seed mix. So I guess it depends on how you are going to use it to deter the squirrels on whether it will cause harm to the animals you want to feed. Hope this helps.

Jason J. Watkins, Plant Regulatory Officer
WV Dept. of Agriculture, Plant Industries Division
1900 Kanawha Blvd, East, Charleston, WV 25305-0191
Information used with permission.

Reducing Direct Access To Squirrels

squirrel protection There are a number of feeders that do a pretty good job of repelling squirrels.

Do you have your own suggestions for making feeders feed the birds and not other animals? Then why not send your idea in?

By far this is the most difficult task to do. After all if it was easy and convenient everyone would be doing it. However, the strategies are simple and straightforward.

Option 1. Pole Feeder Modifications. Attach feeders on posts at least 6 feet off the ground and at least 10 away from any nearby branches/structures. The fact is that any squirrel can access a feeder hanging from a tree branch. Sure baffles help and may even prevent access but why give the squirrels so many opportunities to try? The feeder at the right was situated on a pole which was covered with aluminum flashing. Always start flashing from the bottom of the pole and be sure that each layer of aluminum overlaps the lower one. (like the way you shingle a house). Also the pole is not round it is a square log approximately 3"x3". This feeder proved that a squirrel proof feeder is possible. Remember that squirrels don�t need to reach the feeder to eat. They only have to get the food onto the ground. If they can shake a feeder so that it spills its cargo, the squirrels are still satisfied.

Option 2. Baffle Cones. Attach baffle cones around the pole with the widest part facing out and down to prevent squirrels from climbing the pole. These cones should be attached at least 4 feet off the ground and extend out at least 2 feet. You don�t want a squirrel able to hang ten around the baffle. This baffle should also prevent other animals like raccoons from accessing the feeder.

screened feederOption 3. Choose Specialty Feeders. There are a variety of feeders designed to reduce squirrel access to feeders.

Feeders with Screens. This feeder, sold by Handsome Rewards (909-943-2023), may be helpful to keeping away larger, messier birds. Larger birds are more likely to spread food onto the ground increasing food availability to various squirrels. Of course appropriate baffles and feeder positioning should take place.

One difference in this feeder, is that we do NOT recommend using mixed seed in a feeder. Each feeder should only contain one type of seed.

ICWDM would like to thank the Burgess Family for the following tip:

feeder idea

"Some of the more expensive type of store-bought tube bird seed feeders come supplied with a metal hood, but the cheaper ones don't. I recycled an aluminum pie plate to make an effective alternative. Cut a slit in the center of the plate, same width as the tube, remove the wire hanger from the feeder, upturn the plate and thread it onto the hanger then put the hanger back on the tube, with the plate forming a second roof over the tube. The squirrels find it very difficult to negotiate around the pie plate and cannot climb down onto the feeder. Hang the feeder from a large branch far with enough distance from tree trunk and ground. Before I did this, squirrels were all over my feeder, now they can never get on it."

gravity feeder Feeders wth Gravity Door Protection. The feeder pictured at the left, utilizes a weight activated bar to prevent access to the bird seed. A screw is used to create tension. Since squirrels weigh more than birds, when the squirrel steps on the bar, it closes off access to the seed. Whereas, when a bird lands on the bar, they don't weigh enough to make it move, thus they are able to keep eating.

Please note, however, that some squirrels have learned how to hold on to one end of the feeder and hang down to get the seed, thereby bypassing the need to step on the bar. These feeders are more costly than alternatives, but they have a good reputation and may well pay for themselves in seed savings.

Additional Resources

Selective Bird Feeding: Deterring Nuisance Wildlife from Bird Feeders-Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln

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