Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: Feeding More Birds Than Squirrels

squirrels at feeders
At least one squirrel isn't cleaning out the bird feeder.

Not that I mind the squirrels visiting my bird feeders and sharing the bird seed—if they would share!

We just want to play!

For many of us feeding the birds is somewhat of a luxury, and purchasing new or more expensive feeders is not always in the budget. I’m a miser with bird seed and to see all I’ve put out for birds spilled all over the ground where many birds won’t eat it, or to watch the birds sit in the trees and watch the squirrels empty out the feeder makes me say bad words my innocent cats probably shouldn’t hear.

But it really burns me when they don’t just eat the seed, but also chew apart the feeder, or simply take it down and throw it around the yard to get the last of the seed out of it. Over the 22 years I’ve been here I’ve reinforced all my feeders or replaced them with metal and glass or rigid plastic, this out of necessity after having fairly good plastic ones with big holes chewed in them and even wooden ones gnawed to where the seed pours out a bottom corner.

And when squirrels get mad, there’s no telling what they’ll do! Like chew on the insulation and gaskets on my casement windows despite Giuseppe’s obvious threats, as seen at right. This feeder is prime viewing during Cat TV, and I fill it with special seed that has more nuts and fruits and attracts a much larger variety of birds. It’s also more expensive. I purchased a feeder which has a spring that lowers the decorative outside cage so that the feeder openings are blocked when something heavier than a few birds lands on it. Buddy the Squirrel is really mad but the seed is left for the birds.

After years of designing ever more elaborate (and ugly) squirrel baffles, I’ve come up with one that is inexpensive and easy to install and replace, and as attractive or as plain as you’d like it to be, plus I read about another that wears out soon enough but is a riot to watch.

bird feeder
Tube feeder with bowl-style squirrel baffle.

Bowl Baffle

The first is a bowl baffle that hangs over just about any feeder, made from a large plastic bowl easily obtainable for about $1.00, like the 8-quart plastic bowl pictured. The bowl should be wide enough to keep the squirrel from being able to hang over the edge and reach the feeder for feeding or destructive purposes. Even if the squirrel can hook its toes around the cord or chain that suspends your feeder the depth and circumference of your bowl generally keeps it from reaching around and under the edge of the bowl. The squirrel’s weight usually manages to tip the bowl far enough that the squirrel slides off before it can do much damage if it can reach the feeder. An added benefit is that the bowl also keeps the feeder covered from the weather.

Cut or drill a hole in the center of the bottom of the bowl; this can be reinforced by gluing washers around the hole, but it’s not necessary. If the bowl has a lip, as this one does, also punch some holes in the lip so that liquid and debris won’t collect in it. Slide the suspension cord or chain for your feeder through the center hole and hang the feeder. Slide the bowl as far down toward the feeder as you can get it—this won’t get in any bird’s way unless the feeder has openings near the top. They often perch on the lip of the bowl to wait their turn.

You can find bowls in all colors and perhaps coordinate with your house, or be creative and paint designs on your bowl with outdoor trim enamel to stand out in the winter landscape. You can also use stainless steel or other materials if you have the right tools. Just don’t get too attached to it if it’s plastic, because the squirrels will chew on it, if only in frustration—but better a $1.00 bowl than a $40.00 feeder with $10.00 of seed in it.

Add a slinky to your feeder pole for fun and entertainment!

Slinky Baffle

This one is so much fun you should install it right outside a prominent window so you can laugh all winter. It works like this: the squirrel jumps onto the post or tries to climb it and lands on the Slinky, which stretches as Slinkys do, depositing the squirrel back onto the ground. No matter how high the squirrel jumped, it landed on the Slinky, which stretched and provided no good footing for continuing up the post.

You just have to have a post that’s taller than a squirrel can jump, and placed so that the squirrel can’t just jump on the roof of the feeder.

bird feeder
Bird feeder with Slinky baffle

The feeder pictured sits on a wooden shelf that is nailed to the top of a wooden post. I screwed a cup hook into the post right under the shelf and slipped three coils of the slinky over the hook to reinforce its hold. If there is no wood on your feeder into which to put a hook, like the shepherd’s crook feeder holders, look for a metal strap holder used in plumbing or electrical work.

The Slinky stretches permanently after a few months and then it becomes a squirrel ladder, but until then it’s really fun to watch the squirrel trying to outwit the slinky.

And why the black and white photos? I used them in a black and white newsletter article a few years ago, and while I still use the bowl baffles in several places I no longer use the Slinky baffle because I have no feeder on a post.

Give the squirrel his own food

Of course, you can also give the squirrel his very own feeder and enjoy his antics there. It won’t keep him entirely away from your seed feeders as you can see at the top, but it will keep him occupied. The other squirrel got past the bowl baffle; that tree has slowly laid down after the weight of a few storms and I really need to find a better place to hang the feeder.

They love peanuts and dry corn, so I’ll toss a handful of peanuts in the shell out into the yard and the squirrels go on a treasure hunt for a while, completely ignoring the feeders. I also put out wildlife blocks of corn and bigger seeds now and then which also keeps the squirrels occupied while the birds eat.

I got a wonderful deal on this squirrel corn feeder which hangs about 10 feet away from one of my hopper bird seed feeders that is a main squirrel target. It’s a circle of steel that has a peg in the middle of the bottom to hold an ear of corn, and hangs by a chain from the tree. They find the round shape so fun to climb on and they love the dried corn on the ears. And I think they like to eat upside down because I find them hanging at all sorts of angles. Squirrel corn feeders can be easy to make—my first was a 2×4 with three nails driven though it to hold the ears of corn which I nailed to the trunk of one of my older trees, replacing the empty cobs nearly every day.

If nothing else, squirrels provide entertainment for all of us in all seasons! Jelly Bean and Giuseppe consider the squirrel as the squirrel considers them.

two black cats looking at squirrel outside window
He's right there...

 


Inspired by felines you know! Visit Portraits of Animals on Etsy this Holiday Season.

Inspired by felines you know! Visit Portraits of Animals on Etsy!

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Bernadette

From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, The Creative Cat offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats. From catchy and creative headlines to factual articles and fictional stories, The Creative Cat provides constant entertainment and important information to people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

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