Plus, the one type of seed—and a household trick—that repels them.

By Roxanna Coldiron
September 20, 2019

Backyard birds provide so much beauty. When you make your yard hospitable to the birds in your area, you are helping to keep the natural ecosystem in balance. Humans coexist with nature, and we can reduce our imprint when we find ways to harmonize our lifestyle with the natural environment. Your backyard offers a wonderful habitat for the birds, and the food that you leave for them can make your backyard even more appealing.

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Unfortunately, bird feeders tend to draw in other animals than just the birds. Squirrels will raid your bird feeder if you don't take measures to stop it. And it won't just be one squirrel. If they know that they can get to your bird seed, they will bring their friends and family to feast at your feeder. "Squirrels are really good and really determined at getting into bird feeders," says John Schaust, chief naturalist at Wild Birds Unlimited. "That's why do-it-yourself is so challenging, but there are some things that you can do to keep squirrels from stealing from your bird feeder." You have to either outsmart the squirrels or make your bird food less appealing to them.

Related: The Best Bird Feeders for Your Backyard

Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeders

Out in the market, there are plenty of squirrel-proof bird feeders that are designed to block squirrels from eating the seeds inside. Some operate by the squirrel's weight and automatically shut (such as Brome's Squirrel Buster Bird Feeder); others are constructed in chew-proof metal and a wraparound cage (like Audubon's Squirrel-Proof Caged Tube Bird Feeder). Generally, there is a guard that prevents access to the feeding port when a squirrel gets on the perch. Only birds can reach the food inside.

"But the feeder needs to be properly placed," explains Schaust. "Properly placed is key, so that a squirrel can't just hang off the side of a tree and gingerly reach into the feeder." Make sure that you have properly secured the guard and place your bird feeder away from trees and rooflines. If you already have a bird feeder at home, you can purchase a cage (such as Droll Yankees Cage and Cover Bird Feeder Guards) that can be placed over it to prevent squirrels from stealing bird food.

Pole and Baffle System

One of the most effective ways to keep squirrels off your bird feeder is a pole and baffle system. Schaust recommends an Advanced Pole System (APS), which is a pole with crook arms. Then, you can secure a baffle to it to outsmart the hungry squirrels. A baffle is essentially a dome that is placed above the bird feeder. Schaust says that the baffle needs to go up about 4.5 to 5 feet on the pole. You can purchase baffles; otherwise, use a metal trash can lid or other materials to construct your own baffle. Even better: Try to opt for one in a color that will attract the birds. "A pole system with a baffle in the proper location can be very effective against keeping squirrels off your bird feeder," says Schaust. Because squirrels can launch themselves to get to the feeder, proper placement of your pole and baffle system is a must. You don't want it to be too close to a tree or roofline. Think like a squirrel: If it can find a way to jump onto the feeder and reach the bird food, no system will stop it.

Changes to Your Bird Food

One of the simplest ways that you can discourage squirrels from stealing bird food is in the type of food that you put into the feeder. "Squirrels don't like safflower seeds," Schaust says. "It has a bitter taste, and they don't like it." Safflower has about the same protein and fat content as sunflower seeds, but is less appealing to squirrels. Woodland birds like cardinals and chickadees might be unfamiliar with safflower (like Wagner's Safflower Seed) at first, but generally tend to love it once they are introduced to it as a food supply.

Or, try adding cayenne pepper to your bird food: "Birds are unaffected by hot pepper," Schaust explains. "But squirrels don't like the heat from the pepper. It won't hurt them, but they can't handle the heat from the spice."

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