Other Feeder Visitors
It can be fun to watch a persistent squirrel finagle its way to your bird food, but if squirrels overrun your feeders, they can discourage birds from visiting. One way to keep squirrels from consuming volumes of bird seed is to distract them by feeding peanuts or dried ears of corn in a location some distance from your feeders. You also can try “squirrel-proof” bird feeders, but squirrels often find a way into these feeders, too.
Squirrel baffles, or barriers placed between squirrels and feeders, are usually the best way to keep squirrels away from your seed. On pole-mounted feeders, baffles can be placed beneath the feeder to keep squirrels and other mammals from climbing the pole. However, squirrels can jump to feeders placed less than ten feet from a tree or building. If squirrels are jumping from above, a tilting baffle at least 18 inches in diameter placed above the feeder might work. If your feeder is hung from a horizontal line, try placing lengths of plastic tubing around the line; the tubing should spin when a squirrel tries to walk on it. In addition to commercially made baffles, bird watchers have used old vinyl LP records, plastic salad bowls, two-liter soda bottles, and stovepipes as barriers between squirrels and feeders.
Squirrels (and other mammals) may be deterred from consuming birdseed treated with capsaicin, the chemical that makes peppers “hot.” Many commercial products are coated with capsaicin, but we are unaware of any research examining the effect of high doses of capsaicin on birds. Although capsaicin may not negatively affect wild birds, we discourage adding any products to bird foods that have not been thoroughly tested.
If you live in an area with bears, FeederWatch recommends against any feeding except when bears are hibernating. Even if it were possible to install feeders that the bears could not get to or destroy (which is unlikely), it is very dangerous for bears to associate homes with food. If you are not sure of the hibernation dates in your area, consult your local wildlife authorities.
If raccoons, deer, or moose become a nuisance, the best tactic is to make your feeders inaccessible with fencing or baffles. Another option is to string a cable between two trees and suspend your feeders above the reach of the hungry critters. If these approaches are impractical, you will probably have to remove your feeders temporarily until the animals move on in search of food elsewhere. If your mammalian visitors appear only at night, try taking your feeders inside at dusk.