By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
If you have ever fedwild birds, you know they love sunflowerseeds. Squirrels,too, compete with birds at feeders and generally make a nuisance of themselves.Wild animals don’t draw a line when it comes to food, and your ripeningsunflower heads are also a target. Preventing bird and squirrel sunflowerdamage may seem like a round the clock defense strategy, but take heart. Wehave some simple tricks on how to deter birds and squirrels and save yoursunflower seeds.
Admittedly, it’s kind of cute when squirrels shimmy theirway up towering sunflowers to feast on the seeds, but what if you want to savethat seed? Protecting sunflowers from birds and squirrels will help you keepthe harvest all to yourself. You can get creative to deter birds eatingsunflowers and squirrels taking your hard won harvest.
Using netting over the flower or entire plant can preventmany seed thieves. Plant decoy plants, keep bird feeders filled, and placefeeding sites for squirrels. If they aren’t hungry, they are not as likelyto go after your plant.
There are sprays and repellents available that, combinedwith covering the flower, should work in combo. Rather than play around withsuch measures, you can also just harvest the flowers. Pick them when the backof the flower turns from green to deeply yellow. Set the seed heads in a dry,warm location to cure.
It’s only natural to see birds eating sunflower. However,their feast is your loss, so protective measures must ensue. You can try a scarecrow,the classic way to scare away birds or use any fluttering, moving item thatwill startle them away. One easy method is to hang CDs to sway and glitter inthe sunlight.
Draping the plant in holiday tinsel is another quick way tofrighten birds away from your seeds. You can also cover the heads so birdscan’t get to them so easily. Simple brown paper bags slipped over the flowerswill let the seeds continue to ripen while deterring the birds.
Start protecting sunflowers by planting thorny or sharpplants around the base. You can use cardboard or metal to fashion a baffle justunder the flower. These will prevent the animal from reaching its prize.Alternatively, you can wrap sheet metal or even aluminum foil around the stalk,but you will have to go quite high up, as squirrels are excellent jumpers.
Many gardeners find success in simply covering the floweritself with a mesh container, like a berry crate. Squirrels reportedly dislike mothballs.Hang a few from sturdy leaf petioles and repel the little critters. Sharplyscented herbs and spicy sprays are also excellent repellents.
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Squirrels are cute but unfortunately, they are quite destructive so squirrel repellent is a must. They get into your vegetable garden and ruin your veggies, they eat the seeds that you leave out for the birds.
Depending on the type of squirrels in your garden, they may even dig burrows in your yard. Squirrels, unfortunately, also like to nest in attics, leaving droppings and urine.
If there is a crack or a hole in a building, squirrels will make it bigger so that they can get in. Despite this, squirrels are essential to the environment since they carry microriza which help plants to grow.
They are the only animals who do. So before killing them, consider non-lethal methods. Let's look at how to get rid of squirrels in the yard naturally and keeping them out of your home too.
Common Grackles can be a problem in the East. They are resident in the Southeast and can be a problem all year. Elsewhere Common Grackles are migratory in the Northeast, Midwest, eastern and central Canada, and the Great Plains. Grackles in these latter locations might only be a problem in spring or fall migration.
Red-winged Blackbirds generally only visit feeders in the winter. They move to the marshes to breed in the summer. Brewer's Blackbirds in the West and Rusty Blackbirds in the East only form large flocks in the fall and winter. They also migrate northward in the summer.
European Starlings, Boat-tailed Grackles in the East and Great-tailed Grackles in the West are non-migratory. So they can be a problem all year.
If anyone has trouble with Yellow-headed Blackbirds, well, I'm jealous! They are migratory, too.
If your problem is a seasonal issue the solution is still the same. But you may not have to apply these remedies all year. There may be some times of the year you don't have to be so aggressive in getting rid of these birds and keeping grackles, blackbirds, and starlings away from your bird feeders.
Countless backyards are battlegrounds between determined homeowners and squirrels fighting over bird food. No mammal is as competent at achieving their goal—ready to defy every design, every device and every technology intended to keep them from consuming sunflower seeds, peanuts and corn.
Some people have nothing against squirrels and will let them take what they want from feeders. Where possible, a little for squirrels and more for the birds seems to be a good compromise. The real problems begin when that arrangement doesn’t satisfy the squirrels and they take their share and then some.
So what should we do? The first step is to keep the squirrels out of feeders by either placing the feeder where squirrels can’t gain access to it or using a feeder that is designed to keep squirrels out no matter where it is in the yard.
One way to keep squirrels out of your feeder is to top it with a large plastic dome called a baffle. The idea is simple: The squirrel tries to climb onto the feeder and encounters the baffle, which blocks their access. When they try to push their way past the bafflers, they rotate, often dumping the would-be diner onto the ground along with some seed. (As unbelievable as it may seem, some squirrels figure out that they can just launch themselves at the dome, bounce off, and eat the seeds that are spilled on the ground.)
You can create a homemade system by suspending the feeder from a horizontal wire equipped with baffles that block squirrels from scampering from the wire to the feeder. Here’s how:
Step 1. Attach each end of the wire to trees, posts or any convenient structure.
Step 2. Find clean, empty soda bottles (one liter or more).
Step 3. Puncture a hole in the bottom of each bottle.
Step 4. Slide three or four of them on to the wire on each side of the feeder.
That should prevent all but the most athletic squirrel from dining at your feeder.
Squirrels will also have difficulty raiding a feeder hung from a tree branch on a wire more than ten feet long. Place the feeder at least eight feet away from the tree trunk, limbs or structures from which the squirrels might leap. If a squirrel does slide down the support wire, a plastic or metal umbrella-shaped (commercial or homemade) baffle mounted over the feeder will deflect them.
New exclusion designs are appearing all the time. Some more complex (and more expensive) designs use counterbalanced baffles that close the feeder’s openings when any animal as heavy as a squirrel comes to feed. The expense may be worth it—we’ve had feeders like this in use for 10 years and they are still going strong.
Other models feature an external cage with openings so small that squirrels and larger birds can’t get at the food, but smaller birds can. The birds always manage to drop some seeds, so as an added bonus the squirrels get something, too.
A second basic approach is to fill your feeder with foods that squirrels won’t want: Safflower seed (which attracts species such as cardinals, chickadees and titmice), nyjer thistle (which nourishes goldfinches and others of their kind) or a birdseed mixture that includes a large amount of white proso millet seed (which satisfies the hunger of mourning doves and house finches).
Some "solutions" to keeping pesky squirrels out of bird food, such as trapping and killing, are simply unacceptable. There are some other squirrel-repelling products and methods that we don’t recommend. These include:
There are many more strategies, devices, plans and schemes you can try. Your local bird store will have many other devices, as well as advice about what's being tried locally.
Consider a specialty feeder for squirrels themselves—more people are opting for the "if you can't lick 'em, join 'em" strategy. When you kick back and enjoy squirrels along with their feathered friends, they double the pleasures of watching your wild neighbors.
Q: We love to watch the birds in our backyard, and have installed several feeders that have successfully attracted them. Unfortunately, the seed we put out also attracts a lot of squirrels, who gobble it up and make a huge mess in the process. How can we keep squirrels away from our bird feeders?
A: Squirrels in your bird feeders? Your dilemma is not uncommon. Bird feeders are a wonderful way to attract feathered friends, but most backyard wildlife is indiscriminate, and all manner of other animals will also be drawn to the bird seen you provide. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to thwart squirrels and other uninvited guests. Read on for some tips on keeping those rascals away from your backyard bird feeders.
Squirrels love birdseed (as well as nuts, sunflower seeds, fruit, and corn), but they don’t favor everything that birds eat. So stock your bird feeder with such fare as safflower seed, nyjer seed, and white proso millet, which squirrels don’t care for and they’ll likely head elsewhere for their next meal.
Squirrels can easily jump up to seven feet horizontally. Even if you have a squirrel-proof bird feeder pole (see the next tip), if your feeder is placed near a tree, squirrels can simply leap from a nearby limb onto the food source from the side or above.
While squirrels are incredible climbers, you can outsmart them with a pest-proof bird feeder pole (such as the Squirrel Stopper, available on Amazon). Most squirrel-proof bird feeder poles employ a baffle—generally a semi-circular or cone-shaped deflector attachment—designed to keep critters from reaching the food source. Note that squirrels can jump up to five feet vertically, so be sure the baffle is installed high enough so that the critters can’t just jump over it and seize the seed.
If you already have your bird feeder on a pole, you can simply install a squirrel baffle (like this one on Amazon) onto it. Just be sure to place it at least five feet high so squirrels can’t just jump over it to the food.
An inexpensive DIY alternative to a squirrel foil may already be sitting in a child’s toy box—if not, you can purchase the original metal Slinky spring for about $4 (available on Amazon). To deter squirrels, simply fasten the spring to the top of your feeder pole. Watching squirrels try to scale it may provide as much entertainment for you as watching the birds eat!
If you cannot place your feeder in a location squirrels can’t get to, consider investing in a squirrel-proof feeder. They come in a variety of styles, some employing cages, others using spring-loaded doors to help keep squirrels at bay. The Roamwild PestOff Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder (available on Amazon) comes with a satisfaction guarantee.
Capsaicin, the compound in hot peppers that makes your tongue burn, only affects mammals—not birds. You can purchase capsaicin-coated bird feed products, suets, and sauces on the market (such as Cole’s Hot Meats, available on Amazon) or just mix some cayenne pepper into seed you already have. One whiff or taste is enough to drive out any squirrels in bird feeders.
Squirrels are often attracted to the seed that falls from feeders to the ground. Once they’ve found scattered food, they’re likely to go straight for the source. So keep the area under and around your feeders clean of debris to reduce the chance of luring squirrels in the first place.
Try to outfox squirrels by putting obstacles between them and your bird feeders. For instance, if you hang feeders on a wire between two trees or poles, string empty thread spools or plastic bottles onto the wire to create an obstacle course squirrels will find difficult to get through.
If you consider squirrels cute but you just don’t want them snatching birdseed, consider feeding them something they love, like corn, peanuts, or sunflower seeds, in a location away from your feeders. Use a tray squirrel feeder that is so easy to access, the challenging bird feeders are bound to become less appealing. But keep in mind you may well be inviting raccoons, deer, and other animals to the party!