I have long had a problem with grey squirrels. They feast on birdseed in trays, play acrobatics to jump on fat ball feeders and make light work of scaling metal poles to steal the peanuts from my bird feeders.
So, is there really a squirrel-proof feeder which works?
Matthew Tume, RSPB product manager of birdcare and optics, says that in reality, no product on the market is totally squirrel-proof.
“Squirrels are very intelligent and very determined, and they will find ways around things.”
However, Rachel Schofield, of birdfood and wildlife product specialist CJ Wildlife, says: “There’s a great number of really good squirrel-proof feeders on the market, as far as adult squirrels are concerned. Juveniles, however, can squeeze through protective cages.”
What material should you go for?
“Metal and preferably powder-coated. Plastic feeders won’t last very long. You can buy protective cages for many feeders, but it’s cheaper to buy an integrated unit,” says Schofield.
“Squirrels can chew through plastic ports, so we would recommend you use metal feeders, rather than plastic ones,” Tume agrees.
What about birdseed?
You’re best off with a ‘no waste’ seed mix, says Schofield, which will help deter pigeons and squirrels from picking up the discarded husks which smaller birds deposit on to the ground. You can buy huskless seeds and sunflower hearts.
“De-husked varieties will be more expensive, but you get what you pay for. Reputable companies which sell good quality seed mixes won’t pack them full of wheat or maize. And using de-husked varieties means that birds don’t lose time trying to get to the nutrients,” says Schofield.
Where should I put the feeders
“Set them away from jumping-off points, such as fences and hanging trees. However, there is a balance. You want your feeders to have a degree of cover, as the further out in the open they are, the easier it is for predators – such as birds of prey – to spot them,” says Tume.
Are there any other ways to deter squirrels?
Some people suggest dusting the birdseed with chilli powder or hot sauce like Tabasco, which apparently doesn’t bother the birds, but the squirrels don’t like the spice, says Tume.
Others recommend smearing your bird feeder poles with Vaseline to stop the squirrels climbing up them.
Or, you could always try putting up a squirrel feeder at the other end of the garden, away from your bird station, and give visiting squirrels some peanuts of their own.
On test: Which squirrel deterrents should I consider?
“There are feeder guardians, which are effectively cages which go around your feeders. You hang your feeders inside the cage. The idea is that the cage holes are big enough for small birds to enter and exit safely, and small enough to act as a deterrent for squirrels. They make it more difficult for squirrels to access, but juveniles will be able to squeeze through,” says Tume.
“Smaller birds – such as blue tits, goldfinches and greenfinches – will be able to fly in and out of the cages, but larger birds – such as jackdaws and magpies – may be deterred, although magpies have long necks, so may be able to reach through to get the seed, depending on the gap between the cage wall and the feeder.
“They should be made to the exact specification which allows small birds in safely, but also deters adult squirrels and large birds,” he adds.
Tried & Tested: The Squirrel 6 Port Adventurer with Guardian (£57.99. CJ Wildlife, birdfood.co.uk)
This was the only item which really stopped the squirrel in its tracks. It managed to jump on to the top of the feeder from a tall shrub but was too big to get through the metal guard. It even tried to open the lid of the tubular feeder, but couldn’t get in.
These are plastic domes which fit either over the bird feeder, or half way up the pole if you are securing the feeder from the ground, but under the feeding stations. They aim to prevent squirrels from descending on to or climbing up to the feeders.
“If they manage to climb on to the baffle, the baffle often rocks the squirrels loose, so they fall off,” says Tume. “We get mixed feedback on them.”
Tried & Tested: The Squirrel Guard Baffle (£19.99, CJ Wildlife, birdfood.co.uk)
This cone did stop the squirrels from climbing up to reach the feeder, but one managed to get on to the feeder from above, and then accessed the food. However, once I’d moved the pole away from tall shrubs and trees from which it could gain access, the baffle worked very well.
The weighted feeder
Squirrel Buster feeders are weighted devices which shut off access to the feeding points when a squirrel or heavy pigeon lands on them, via a metal shutter. These are widely available and one of the most popular deterrents.
Tried & Tested: The Squirrel Buster Peanut Birdfeeder (£49.99, widely available from stockists, including the RSPB)
I made the mistake of hanging this weighted feeder from a bracket on my garden fencepost, which enabled the squirrel to access the peanuts by taking its weight on its back legs on the fence and then gently placing its front paws on the feeder.
It didn’t manage to get much food though, as the feeder bobbed up and down as its weight distribution changed. Place the feeder in a clear space with no other balancing points nearby, and it will be much more effective.