While the migratory members of Central Oregon’s bird population have flown south for winter, feeding those who stick around can be a challenge here — and everywhere with squirrels, for that matter.
Well-known to be one of the peskiest of varmints, squirrels can chew through wood and plastic, leap to great lengths, bounce, shimmy and dangle dangerously and even scale power lines. They use their amazing acrobatics, along with their strong problem-solving skills and dexterity, to gain access to any area with a steady supply of food.
For backyard bird watchers, this creates quite a conundrum. Should you attempt to prevent their thievery by booby-trapping bird feeders? Should you invest in fancy new feeders, developed just to foil squirrels? Or should you simply give up and adopt a more passive attitude with a less aggressive approach: If you can’t beat ’em, feed ’em.
The two most common seed-stealing culprits we encounter in Central Oregon are the western gray squirrel and the Douglas squirrel. Both are diurnal, which means they’re most active during daylight hours. Although they might stay in their dens or nests for a few days during periods of inclement weather, neither actually hibernates, making both a year-round threat.
In the wild, their omnivorous diet includes seeds, fungi, insects, plants and sometimes even other animals. Seeds, and especially nuts, are their favorites, however, and they will stop at nothing to get to them.
For some backyard birders, setting up a separate area to feed the squirrels helps limit their disturbance by attracting their attention elsewhere.
Store-bought squirrel food usually includes corn, peanuts and sunflower seeds, although peanuts tend to be their favorite, according to local experts. Wild Birds Unlimited in Bend sells peanuts in the shell for $11.49 for a 5-pound bag, or 5 pounds of shelled peanuts for $11.99. A suitable squirrel feeder gives access but uses a barrier such as a cage or metal mesh so they at least have to work for it a little. (Peanut Hut Feeder at Wild Birds Unlimited, $27.99)
As far as prevention goes, avid bird watchers have developed some unique solutions over the years.
From spraying the seed with cayenne pepper water (which birds are unaffected by) to placing a Slinky around the feeder’s pole, there are many sneaky ways to battle squirrels right on the ground — or in the air, for that matter. But, as many have learned, a determined squirrel will persevere.
For pole feeders, installing metal or plastic baffles, discs or domes above and below the seed holder is one common way to prevent squirrels from climbing up, down or over. The same strategy can apply to hanging feeders as well, but you might have to adjust the height of the baffle until you find the sweet spot where the added weight won’t make it swing wildly in the wind, sometimes spilling the very seed you’re trying to protect.
If you’re someone who prefers a sure thing — to know you’re going to win a war before you wage one — you’ll be looking to purchase one of the following three types of feeders that are already tried and true. Just the names of the various models are almost as funny as seeing them in action. Models like the Eliminator, Squirrel Buster Plus and the Super Stop-A-Squirrel are just a few.
Baffles and baffle-style feeders
Baffles can be purchased separately ($20.99 to $42.99, depending on size and disc or dome shape) and added to any bird feeder to help deter squirrels. This is probably the most commonly used solution to update a feeder you already own. A single baffle can be placed above a hanging feeder, or a pair can be used above and below a pole-mounted feeder. A baffle above has the umbrella benefit of offering partial rain protection.
Beware, though, as the savviest of squirrels know that, with some baffle-style feeders, the force of a solid “launch and slide” off the baffle is usually enough to sway the feeder and spill some seed.
As far as baffle-style feeders, the Squirrel Buster Plus with weather guard is a deluxe, baffle-style feeder that gets high praise online and in stores ($120).
Barrier feeders usually feature cages or external metal bars spaced apart just far enough so birds can hop through to the inner feeding area but larger animals can’t gain access. Many offer other features, such as a baffle or weight-sensitive, locking seed ports.
Perky-Pet’s Squirrel Stumper is just one example of a barrier feeder ($24).
Tension or weight-balancing feeders
These feeders use the weight of the squirrel against it, closing off the doors or seed ports when it lands on top or on the perch. Adjustable, counterbalanced spring mechanisms can be set to allow only the lightest birds to perch, excluding pigeons and other large birds. Or, with reduced tension, it can allow larger birds while still shutting tight when a heavier animal lands.
The Eliminator, available from Wild Birds Unlimited, is one of the highest-rated quality tension feeders. Priced at about $100, this one comes with a limited lifetime guarantee and is top-shelf dishwasher safe, which makes it easier to follow experts’ recommendation to wash feeders at least once every two weeks to prevent the spread of disease.
No matter which secret strategy you employ or which new model you buy, remember that with any feeder, sooner or later you might lose a little seed. But keep your sense of humor. Even if you’ve got a Squirrel Buster or Squirrel-Be-Gone by Perky-Pet — or even a Yankee Flipper — to a wily and persistent squirrel, no bird feeder is truly squirrel-proof.
— Reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org