Bird Watcher's General Store

Squirrels Are Just Trying to Earn a Living - 10/01/04


Dear Bird Folks,

I have just received a bird feeder as a gift. I have never fed the birds before and have been warned that I need to put some protection around my feeder or my new gift will be nothing but a feeder for squirrels. Does my new feeder need protection and if so, what is the best way to protect it?

-Jim, Auburn, MA

Oh No Jim,

For years I have avoided answering questions about squirrel proofing bird feeders in this column. Why? First of all, most questions written to us about squirrels are filled with so many nasty words that even the New York Post wouldn't print them. Second, and most importantly, I know what is going to happen the minute I offer squirrel-proof advice. I will be hit with a wave of bitter calls, letters, e-mails and notes tied to rocks and thrown through the front window, from people who didn't have perfect results from some of my suggestions.

And that's not the worst of it. I routinely get accosted at work or in the aisles of Stop & Shop by people with photos. That's right photos! Some people seem to derive great pleasure by showing me pictures of a squirrel on their feeder. Like I wouldn't believe them without some kind of illustration. I'll try to help you out here Jim, but remember these are only suggestions, if they work for you, great. But if they don't work, I don't want to see the photos, hear from your lawyer or wake up with a horse head at the foot of my bed.

There is no way that you can overestimate the cleverness of an Eastern Gray Squirrel. They can do it all, climb, jump, swim (bet you didn't know that), dig, chew and according to some, spit acid and breath fire (you probably knew that). They have the jumping skills of a kangaroo, the grabbing ability of a spider monkey and the brains of a chess champion. And it all comes in a twenty-four ounce package.

Everyday I have people tell me that they have had a great squirrel proof feeder for years and suddenly the squirrels are beating it. Why? Because they are the only creatures that appear to evolve in their own life time. Most creatures take thousands of years to evolve subtle changes. Squirrels can evolve whatever overnight. If they can't reach a feeder one day, they will wake up the next day with a newly grown five foot long arm. Or so it would seem. When dealing with squirrels it is important to have the right attitude. If you are the type of person who looks at life as an adventure, you'll be fine. But if you are the kind of person who is stubborn and easily gets upset when things don't go your way, you are a dead man. The squirrels will own you and every waking minute of your day. You'll be banging on the windows, running through the backyard screaming at them and be a total embarrassment to your entire family. And you won't care.

Yes, to answer your question Jim, you will definitely need protection. When it comes to bird feeding and a few other things in life, always use protection. Since I don't know exactly what your feeder looks like, I simply suggest you place it on a metal pole. Pole mounted feeders are the easiest to squirrel proof, if you keep a few things in mind.

First, you must place the pole out in the open. By "in the open" I mean away from trees, fences, porches, speeding trains or anything a squirrel can leap from. Ten feet away is the rule of thumb, but it is only a rule of thumb. It is not an exact law of physics. Sometimes six or eight feet are enough and other times 200 feet doesn't work. In addition, the pole should be about six feet tall. Squirrels can easily jump five feet straight up from the ground, and that's on a bad day.

Next you will need a squirrel baffle for your pole. (Yes, squirrels can climb metal poles.) Invest in a real baffle, made by a real company and sold by a real store that knows about such things. Don't waste your time on greasing the pole or using an old coffee can or an upside-down salad bowl as a baffle. For the most part none of that homemade stuff works. It only helps to raise your blood pressure and lower your property value.

Good luck with your new feeder Jim. Try not to get too upset with squirrels. Remember, we do this for a hobby, they do it for a living.


Artwork by Catherine Clark


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