Sunday, February 23, 2014

Thieves Among Us

Many folks where I live count birding as a hobby and spend more than a couple of bucks over the course of the winter feeding these lovely winged creatures. But, when you feed the birds you get squirrels. People have been rigging up all sorts of contraptions of wire, filament, metal baffles, whirligigs, and so on just to thwart those seed-stealing busy tails. Now, I like squirrels but I draw the line when they empty a recently filled bird feeder within 30 minutes.

I recently read an article that stated there is no feeder that a squirrel cannot get into. There are, however, squirrel resistant feeders. Reminds me of deer resistant plants – NOT!


Texas is home to the fox, gray, flying and rock squirrels. Ninety percent of the squirrels in east Texas are the gray squirrel (or as they are called in east Texas – limb chickens). Squirrels are very social creatures and have the ability to share knowledge among each other. Imagine if you will, the squirrels discussing who has the best seed and easiest feeder to break into. Baby squirrels learn how to get seed out of a feeder by observing its mother or grandmother.

Squirrels are agile creatures and can rotate their hind feet 180 degrees when descending a tree. With large eyes set on the sides of its head, the squirrel can see all around with little movement of its head. It can see above and below, an adaptation well suited for life in the trees where danger can come from the ground, through the air, or along a nearby limb. Squirrels also have a yellow filter in their eye lenses to help reduce glare and enhance contrast in low-light conditions to improve vision – like night vision glasses so they can find the seed!!

Two to four helpless young are born six or seven weeks after breeding takes place. They are blind and nearly naked and develop slowly.

Photo courtesy of Becky Sheridan
Their eyes open at five weeks, but they do not climb out of the nest for at least seven or eight weeks. They do not get out of their nest tree until they are about ten weeks old. By the time they are three months old, they can fend for themselves. At ten or eleven months they reach sexual maturity, and the cycle can begin again.

Of all of the squirrel-deterrent devices out there, the best is probably the cylinder baffle. It should be 6” in diameter, 18” in length and at least 5’ off the ground. 

Umbrella or tilting baffles placed above the feeder are good too. 

Weight activated feeders  are supposed to be good but my squirrels have found they can lay on top of the feeder and still get to the seed. 

Cayenne pepper added to seed works until the squirrels build up a tolerance to it and it has no effect on birds. Word to the wise, don’t add the pepper to your seed outside on a windy day – just sayin.’

I have tried many of the remedies listed above to no avail. I guess I will just sit on the porch in my rocker with a cup of coffee and spend my time seeing how those little boogers get into the feeders. Kind of comical if you ask me.

It could be worse, I guess. 


  1. I tried to post earlier, but it disappeared.
    Thanks for your neat article. I have had a battle with those "tree rats" for years.
    I solved my problem by installing most of my 9 bird feeders on top of iron pipes, with a "stovepipe" baffle. I also have several hanging "umbrella" feeders, with a sort of baffle above them. All of my feeders are high enough to prevent deer from having access to them.
    A bird feeder must be at least 8 feet away from a "launch pad" from which a squirrel can jump..
    It has been fun, as well as a challenge, to keep the critters out of my feeders.

  2. Ann, this was such a charming post. I learned a lot of new things about the small rats with tails (what we call them in Oklahoma, but I like limb chicken better.) I'm so sorry about you being without electricity. I hope your plants survive in the greenhouse.~~Dee

  3. I, too, learned a lot of things about squirrels from your post. Such interesting information! I think squirrels must have the mind of a genius - they just choose to use all that brainpower retrieving seeds from bird feeders. I don't think there is one they can't crack. Your photos were amusing, but probably more frustrating than amusing for you!