Solving Squirrel Bird Feeder Problems

Last Updated on October 19, 2020 by Nancie

Squirrels on Feeder
Squirrels on Feeder

After fighting to keep squirrels out of my bird feeders for years, I now have them set up so that Squirrels Do Not Get Into My Feeders! It takes some time, thought, and yes, some expense, but it is possible to solve your squirrel bird feeder problems. Here is what I’ve learned over the years about how to keep squirrels out of my feeders.

Squirrel in a Tree

First, Is it Really Possible to Keep Squirrels Out of Bird Feeders?

Yes. While squirrels can be extremely frustrating, it really is possible. If you want to skip right to the easiest solution, do this: Hang your feeder(s) on a sturdy, properly baffled pole positioned outside of squirrel jumping distance.

My “Right Way to Baffle Feeders on a Pole” post will help you set this up correctly.

But if you need an alternative solution, have a specific question or need help solving problems with squirrels in your feeders, read on.

Squirrel in a Ground Bird Feeder

Which Bird Feeders are Easiest For Squirrels to Get Into?

The easiest way for squirrels to get birdseed is to find it on the ground (spread by you or spilled from feeders) or in a ground level feeder. Such easy access lets squirrels, groundhogs, raccoons, rats, mice and other critters to eat your birdseed with the little effort. (This is also true of seed filled feeders/containers sitting on a porch, deck or railing.)

An un-baffled platform feeder hanging on a tree branch is also an open buffet for squirrels. They will jump right in to sit and eat their fill. Only slightly more challenging to them are most other un-baffled feeders hanging from branches or poles. They don’t seem to mind dangling. Squirrels are really good at getting into most feeders.

Can Squirrels Climb Feeder Poles or Skinny Hooks?

Absolutely. Squirrels can definitely climb un-baffled poles and easily shimmy up and down even slim hooks. It is pretty impressive to watch them do it. Some people have experimented with enclosing hooks and hanging wires within Slinkies with reportedly amusing results, but I haven’t personally tried this.

A Red-Breasted Nuthatch Grabbing a Sunflower Heart From a Squirrel Buster Plus Feeder
A Red-Breasted Nuthatch Grabbing a Sunflower Heart From the Feeder

Are There Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeders?

Yes, but you need to be careful what you purchase. There are feeders marketed as squirrel-proof or squirrel resistant. Don’t believe every claim. For example, I’ve seen tube feeders wrapped inside cages sold as “squirrel proof”. But even if a squirrel can’t reach the seed ports, if they can get on the feeder, they can tip it. Then the seed dumps out onto the ground for them to feast upon. And if the feeder is not solidly made, squirrels might be able to bend the cage or pry up the lid.

Note: Some cage feeders can however be quite effective in keeping out larger annoying nuisance birds like European Starlings and Common Grackles, so don’t discount them completely. I use quite a few in my yard for this reason.

Weight-Activated Bird Feeders

That said, there ARE feeders that really do a good job at thwarting squirrels. These tend to have weight-activated features that close their seed ports when the weight of a squirrel gets on the feeder. They also have sturdy metal construction that squirrels can’t chew through to get to the seed.

I have three weight-activated feeders: two Squirrel-Buster Plus feeders and a Squirrel-Buster Classic. They have worked very well for me over the years. If you absolutely need to hang a feeder in a spot inside a squirrel’s jumping distance, these are a good choice. (You still need 18″ clearance to avoid a squirrel reaching from something else though.) They are not inexpensive, but the amount you can save in birdseed makes it well worth the cost in my opinion.

Check out my Squirrel Buster Plus Review and/or my Squirrel Buster Classic Review for two feeders that might work for you. Note: Brome also makes other weight-activated models including feeders for peanuts and suet.

Squirrel in Tree
Squirrel in Tree

Hanging Feeders: How to Keep Squirrels Out of Bird Feeders Hung From a Branch?

Squirrels are furry acrobats. They can jump and climb very easily. Simply hanging most feeders from a tree branch makes it very easy for them to get the seed. To keep squirrels off feeders hung from a tree branch, you need a very good, very large baffle over the feeder. And you need to position the feeder outside of squirrel jumping distance.

Note: I even put hanging baffles over Squirrel Buster feeders, not because I worry squirrels can get into them, but to keep squirrels completely off the feeders which disturbs the birds.

My Best Hanging Squirrel Baffle post covers choosing a baffle . For baffle positioning, see my Keep Squirrels Off Branch Hung Suet post. (The advice applies to seed feeders as well as suet feeders.)

Porch Feeders: How to Keep Squirrels Out of Bird Feeders Hung From a Porch, Etc.?

In the past I hung both seed and suet feeders from my back porch. I spent the whole time yelling at squirrels and banging on the window to scare them away. The squirrels simply climbed up on the porch roof and climbed down onto the feeder. Repeatedly.

I’m not saying it is impossible, but it is very, very challenging. If you really want to attempt it, I’d suggest trying a Squirrel Buster feeder (see above). Keep in mind that you still need to position these feeders with at least 18” space from anything a squirrel can sit or hang from. (Otherwise the squirrel can simply reach out and eat from the feeder without activating the weight mechanism.) Alternatively, if you would like to specifically attract finches, you might put up a nyjer feeder (with ONLY nyjer seed inside.) Squirrels aren’t usually going to eat nyjer.

My back porch was small though. You might have a larger porch and can hang your feeder somewhere a squirrel can neither climb down to and/or can’t reach. Try to hang it high and away from banisters and other jumping off points. If you find the squirrel can still get to it from the roof above, you might consider trying a really good, really large Erva hanging baffle.

My Best Hanging Squirrel Baffle post might give you some ideas on baffles.

Squirrel on a Baffle Over a Bird Feeder
Squirrel on an Erva Baffle Over a Bird Feeder

Baffles: How to Choose the Right Squirrel Baffle For Bird Feeders Hanging From Branches Etc.?

Companies that make bird feeders and related supplies, sometimes call things “baffles” that really are not. Many clear domes you see advertised as baffles are more accurately “weather domes.” They help keep some rain and snow off the feeder. For a hanging feeder, you need a true baffle over the feeder. Squirrels just slide right around weather domes.

My Best Hanging Squirrel Baffle post will help you sort out the difference between weather domes and squirrel baffles. It also looks at the Erva hanging baffles I use in my own yard (and highly recommend.)

Bird Feeders on a Baffled Pole
Bird Feeders on a Baffled Pole

Poles: How to Keep Squirrels Out of Pole Mounted Bird Feeders?

You might think all you have to do to keep squirrels out of feeders is to put them on a pole. But that is only a third of the pole formula. Yes, put it on a sturdy pole, but you also need a barrel squirrel baffle positioned correctly on the pole underneath the feeder. And you need to position the pole itself outside squirrel jumping distance.

My Right Way to Baffle Feeders on a Pole post will help you set up your pole mounted feeders correctly.

Should I Grease the Bird Feeder Pole or Hook?

Some people try greasing the pole and/or hanging hook to make it harder for squirrels to climb the pole. I’d advise not doing this for two reasons. The most important is that if whatever substance you use to grease the pole or hook gets onto a bird’s feathers, it can be dangerous for the bird. It can make it potentially difficult for them to fly and/or regulate temperature. It might also make them sick as they try to clean it off their feathers. The second reason is that you would probably need to keep reapplying the greasy substance. It’s not worth it. Get a decent baffle for the pole instead.

Squirrel Eating Birdseed
Squirrel Eating Birdseed

Will Squirrels Eat Safflower Seed?

Yes. You may have heard that squirrels don’t like safflower and so if you fill your feeders with it, you won’t have squirrel problems. Not so. While they may prefer other seeds over safflower, they will eat it. Many generations of squirrels in my yard have learned to quite happily eat safflower.

Is There Seed Squirrels Won’t Eat?

In my yard, the only seed that squirrels don’t eat is nyjer seed that I put out for goldfinches. For that reason, I find that I do not need to put squirrel baffles over my nyjer feeders. Keep in mind however, that if you mix nyjer with other seed, a squirrel will be quite happy to pick through the mix for seed they like.

My A Seed A Squirrel Won’t Eat post looks at squirrels and nyjer seed.

Do Squirrels Eat Dried Mealworms?

Yes. Squirrels in my yard will eat dried mealworms I put out for bluebirds if they can get them. I have not tried offering live mealworms so I don’t know how they would react to them.

Hot Pepper Suet
Hot Pepper Suet

Do Squirrels Eat Hot Pepper Suet?

Yes and No. I have found in my yard that squirrels don’t usually eat commercial suet flavored with hot pepper. But if they are really, really hungry (like mid-winter) they will eat it if they can get to it. Keep in mind that if you put your suet on a baffled pole, you can offer all kinds of suet flavors.

My Does Hot Pepper Suet Deter Squirrels? post looks deeper at hot pepper flavored suet and squirrels.

Does Hot Pepper Keep Squirrels From Eating Birdseed?

Some people treat their birdseed with hot pepper because squirrels don’t like it but birds don’t seem to mind it. Personally, I go through a lot of birdseed. I don’t want to be bothered with treating it all before I put it out. I’m honestly also not sure how effective it would actually be. My approach is to baffle and position my feeders correctly so that squirrels can’t get into the feeders at all. It’s the simpler solution.

The Nut Flavored Squirrelog on Erva's Feeder
The Nut Flavored Squirrelog on Erva’s Feeder

Does Feeding Squirrels Distract Them From Bird Feeders?

For a couple of years I experimented with feeding squirrels in their own feeders to see if this would keep the squirrels happy and away from the bird feeders. I did not find it helpful. A few squirrels would go to the food set up for the squirrels. The rest would spread out among the bird feeders. They pretty obviously saw all feeders as for them. I realized too that the squirrel population in my yard was increasing greatly.

It just didn’t work for me so I stopped and instead focused on baffles and/or poles as my solution. That said, many people really enjoy feeding squirrels and if you do, no judgement here.

My Feed Squirrels to Distract Them From Feeders? post looks at my squirrel feeding experiment.

How Far Can a Squirrel Jump?

While I have never hosted a squirrel jumping contest, I have seen them make some long leaps. My understanding is they can typically jump 8 to 10 feet. For that reason, you should place feeders 10 feet beyond any spot a squirrel might be able to jump from. Keep in mind that squirrels are also individuals. If you find yourself with an Olympic league squirrel, you may need to add a foot or two. Sometimes you just have to pause and observe to get the positioning right.

My Keep Squirrels Off Branch Hung Suet post covers strategies for positioning both suet and seed feeders.

Can I Set Up My Bird Feeders Once and Never Have to Change Anything?

Probably not. I find I need to make at least minor adjustments to my feeders every year. Most often, the reason is that a branch or other plant that was outside of squirrel jumping distance last year has grown. For example, I had a poke weed plant that grew too large and too close to a pole-mounted feeder this summer. This gave squirrels a jumping off point that wasn’t there before. Removing the plant removed the squirrel’s access. Other times in the past a branch grew and I needed to move the feeder rather than cut the branch.

Or, you might find that for some reason, you need to replace a feeder. Due to the new feeder’s shape, size or other features, you might need to move it or tweak its position. Or you might want to add additional feeders and need to find a place for them. A bird watcher’s work is really never done!

My Keep Squirrels Out of Feeders post covers various strategies and changes I’ve made in my feeder set-up over the years.

Squirrel Eating Birdseed
Squirrel Eating Birdseed

More Questions About Solving Squirrel Bird Feeders Problems?

This post and/or the other posts it links to cover a lot of ground. But if I’ve missed something or you have a question on keeping squirrels out of feeders or want to share your own experiences, please do leave a comment below. I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned or hear what you are doing.

Good wishes!

Nancie

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