James Foss is an expert gardener, understanding both the science and love that goes behind having your own at-home garden. With multiple degrees in horticulture, Foss has used his expertise to help guide fellow gardeners in the classroom, in multiple publications, as well as through personal assistance.
How to Keep Critters Off of Your Bird Feeder
If you’re a bird lover, you probably like to attract them to your yard or garden with a bird feeder. And if you love birds, it’s likely you love all manner of wildlife, but don’t really appreciate other critters stealing all the food you put out for your winged visitors.
Squirrels, chipmunks, and raccoons are the most common offenders. While they’re cute and entertaining, they can drain a bird feeder in a heartbeat. But you don’t need to buy an expensive rodent-flinging bird feeder or lace your birdseed with hot sauce to discourage unwanted visitors. Here are some inexpensive animal-friendly ideas to keep uninvited critters from emptying your bird feeder.
Change the Menu
Sunflower seeds are a popular bird feeder filler, both on their own and in wild bird seed mixes. The problem is that both birds and unwanted critters like sunflower seeds. So here’s a way to put a bad taste in the mouths of the undesirables and make them reconsider crashing your dinner party again: Mix your sunflower seeds with safflower seeds, or just use safflower seeds alone. Many critters such as squirrels do not like safflower seeds, but most birds like them just fine. Safflower seeds are pricier than sunflower seeds though.
Photo by Chris Alcock on Shutterstock
Separate Dining Rooms
Sometimes “divide and conquer” is the best strategy. Observe the behavior of your backyard wildlife, and see which foods seem to attract unwanted visitors the most, and which foods your preferred bird visitors like best. Then you can set up separate feeders: One with the choice fare of your winged friends, and another feeder (located as far away as possible from your bird feeder) containing the favorite foods of the unwanted critters. This setup may lure the undesirables away from your bird feeder, but you may also just wind up with unwanted but well-fed visitors looking for second helpings at your bird feeder. Keep an eye on things to see if your distraction works. If it doesn’t, take down the second feeder, and try something else.
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Don’t Branch Out
The location of your bird feeder can either help or hinder uninvited dinner guests. Obviously, we want to hinder them, so don’t place your feeder in or near trees because that would provide easy access for non-bird visitors. Your deck may also help unwanted critters reach your feeder. Move your feeder away from easy access points in your yard to frustrate undesirables. Make those critters work for it if they really want it!
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No After-Hours Visitors
If raccoons are the biggest issue, remember they’re nocturnal. The little bandits, along with possums, come to bird feeders after dark. If nothing seems to be deterring them from their late-night high jinx, you may want to consider bringing your feeders inside every night. Yes, that’s a bit of a pain, but if you’re serious about keeping the creatures of the night away from your feeder, this step may be necessary.
Photo by Danny Ortega on Shutterstock
Pipe Pests Away
Our little woodland friends need something to sink their claws into. Pipes made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are nice and slippery, so you can use them to your advantage to keep critters off your bird feeder. Stick a long PVC pipe in the ground to make a pole, and attach your bird feeder on top. Or if you already have a bird feeder on top of a pole, you can enclose the existing pole with a PVC pipe. PVC tubing usually comes in white, black, and clear, and is available at home improvement and plumbing supply stores.
Photo by Michal Studeny on Dreamstime
‘A Spring, a Spring, a Marvelous Thing!’
The classic Slinky toy you remember from your childhood can be repurposed to prevent pesky critters from climbing onto a bird feeder. Attaching a Slinky at the top of the post or pole supporting your bird feeder, and let it hang down freely. The springy coils will discourage squirrels and chipmunks from climbing the pole.
Don’t Be Cruel
There are some home-brew methods of deterring critters from your bird feeder that aren’t good for either avian or mammal. People have been known to use petroleum-based products such as petroleum jelly, grease, and even motor oil to make the pole of a bird feeder too slipper to climb. It should go without saying, but these substances can be deadly to birds and other critters, including house pets. But if this strategy has you intrigued, you can try using another slippery substance that won’t hurt animals like shortening (such as Crisco).
Some people suggest using hot pepper additives or using hot sauce or crushed red pepper. Yes, the squirrels and raccoons will hate it, but it may also get in the eyes and skin of both critters and birds. There’s a potential for self-injury for any creature attempting to find relief from burning skin or membranes.
Squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, and their brethren are tenacious little critters. But don’t be cruel toward them. Remember, they’re just trying to survive. The next time a raccoon empties your feeder onto the ground, or a squirrel scares away a beautiful bird you’ve been wanting to see for a long time, don’t take it personally. Them critters is just tryin’ to get by like the rest of us.
Photo by Cjh Photography Llc on Dreamstime