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Strategies for making Bird Feeders feed only birds Part.1

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

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Stop squirrels from raiding bird feeders

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.

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 Ground Foraging

Tactic #1: 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, thereby reducing wasted seed on the ground.

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.

Tactic #2: Recapture the seed Thistle seed capture. Photo by Stephen VantasselSeed recapture idea. Photo by Stephen Vantassel

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.





Tactic #3: Repellents

Cayenne Pepper in Bird Seed Doesn't Always Stop Squirrels

    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 avoided 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.




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