How to Pest-Proof Your Bird Feeder
Talk about uninvited dinner guests: Squirrels, mice, raccoons, and even large birds love chowing down on the bird seed in your feeder, making it harder for blue jays, cardinals, and other feathered flyers to count on you when they feel hungry. No surprise that when there's food left out in the open, there will be lots of interest from the animal world. If you'd like to relax and attract various birds to your backyard, take note of thee best ways to thwart hungry pests from taking over your feeders, as told by a birding expert.
About the only way to get rid of these bushy-tailed pests is to put the feeder where squirrels can't get to it. "Placing the feeders away from 'launch points,' such as nearby trees that a squirrel could jump from to get to a feeder, is a good way to keep those seeds out of reach," says Emma Grieg, leader of Project FeederWatch, a survey by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Birds Canada. Another effective way is using baffles (from $18.99, amazon.com) to prevent squirrels from climbing up feeder-holding poles; baffles are bowl-like devices installed on the bottom of feeders that make climbing the feeder more difficult.
Denying easy access to feeders also works for mice. "Use baffles to prevent the animals from climbing up poles that have feeders on them," says Grieg. "Mice are easier to prevent than squirrels because they can't leap to feeders from nearby trees." When storing bird seed, suet cakes, and meal worms, use metal containers with a tight seal rather than plastic bags to prevent mice from chewing through.
Baffles work well for these large animals, too. Grieg says another thing that could work is installing cages around feeders that have wire spacing big enough to allow birds to access the feeders but small enough to block raccoons from gaining access. "There are also special weight-sensitive feeders that are triggered to close when large animals or bigger birds approach, preventing them from getting to seeds." For one, the Droll Yankees Squirrel X4 Proof Bird Feeder ($29.99, target.com) has a durable caged frame and integrated spring-loaded design. Small birds don't trigger the feeder's close mechanism, so they can continue to feed without worrying about intruders.
There are tough guys even in the bird world: Some large species, like starlings and grackles, try to take over the feeder but can be deterred by using cages similar to what's used with large mammals. "Other species like blackbirds show up for short periods of time—fall and spring—when they are migrating in large flocks," explains Grieg. "But then they leave on their own so sometimes a little patience will also do the trick!" One other option is using tube feeders with small feeding ports and short perches, which give food access to small birds.
Keep the space under the feeder free of food. Just like humans, birds leave a mess when they eat. Some pests eat the spilled birdseed on the ground and don't venture to the feeder. Keep the area free of food and you'll see a downturn in unwanted pest traffic. Also consider motion detectors: Using these devices may allow you to detect and scare away mammals but it could do too good of a job. "If you have something that scares away mammals," says Grieg, "it might also do just as good a job scaring away birds."