Attracting birds and dealing with squirrels

paulsiu(5a)October 4, 2009


I recently purchased a house that sits right next to a man-made wetland. As expected, there are a lot of wildlife in the area. My wife really love birds, so I was thinking of ways of attracting them.

From what I can determined, birds are attracted by two things: water and food. Since I live next to water, the bird bath is probably redundant (may be less redundant in the winter when the water ice up). The birds I notice in the area all year around are cardinals. They probably don't work too well with tube feeders with those big heads and no neck. If I put up a feeder, how do I attract them to the feeder or do I just need to wait?

Which brings me to the next point, I put up a feeder birds don't find it, but there appears to be a million squirrels in my yard. The suet feeder I put up got cleaned out in less than a day.

As an experiment, I tried leaving black oil sunflower seeds in a pile of cayenne pepper. An hour later, the squirrel came by and ate them all up. So much for pepper as a deterrent.

I am thinking that they just dig out the seed from the pepper and ate them. I was thinking that for my next attempt, I'll coat or soak the seeds in some Chinese chili oil, but I don't know if this may be harmful to birds or make the seeds unappealing to the birds.

A second idea is to make it difficult to get to the food. I was thinking of bird feeder on a high pole, but I notice squirrels can climb a metal pole. Apparently, they are hugging it and climbing up the pole. If I get a really thick pole, they may not be able to do this, but I thought there may be an easier solution, a fishing line across 2 trees. I would have to put it high enough that no one will run into it. It's thin enough that they probably can't cross it, but I am wondering if:

1. Can squirrels walk across a fishing line. They can walk across a power lines, but those cables are thick. May be they can tightrope?

2. Will the birds get snagged by the fishing line? Do I need to paint it or something to prevent this from happening?

3. How high do I need to place the feeder so they can't jump on the feeder. Most site indicate about 6 feet or higher?

4. How far away from a tree do I need to hang the feeder? I can't figure out how far a squirrel can jump from tree to tree.



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sailfish(Boston, North)

Put the feeder in a locked metal box and hire a backhoe to bury it and the squirrels will somehow find a way to get to it. We found that in order to enjoy squirrel free birds hanging a thistle tube seemed to work. It might take a bit for the birds to get on it but the squirrels don't seem to be interested in it. We still enjoy the birds that don't eat thistle by filling a birdbath. That seems to attract them all.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2009 at 8:53AM
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Sorry about the difficulty with squirrels, they are such a pain!

I've dealt with these issues for the first time this year, being new at putting up feeders also.

Generally, if you put seed on the ground, ground feeder, or platform feeder that is not 20 feet off the ground, the squirrels are going to get it. I have learned not to be surprised by anything a squirrel does.

I think 10 feet or more from the nearest tree branch is a good distance for placing a feeder, and at least 10 feet off the ground. You never know, I swear some gray squirrels are really flying squirrels!

It is good for the birds to have some cover to fly to, though, in case some hawk or cat approaches the feeder, so some higher-up cover of shrubs, trees etc. is important.

In addition, it sounds like you will need a baffle below or above any feeder that you hang or put on a post. You can find these on many sites on the internet and at some retail stores.

As far as hanging the feeder between trees, I would think as long as the cord wasn't too small the birds could see it. I wouldn't be surprised if a squirrel could crawl across it, though. As far as hanging feeders and squirrels, it's always trial and error when you first put them up.

For suet, the best thing I've found is an upside-down suet feeder that hangs out from my railing on a long hook. It holds one block of suet. Check these out on the internet, there are lots of them. Only the birds that they are intended for (clinging birds and woodpeckers) can really use them well, and the suet is underneath, so if it's hanging up, and far enough out from any railing or tree, squirrels can't get to it.

Unless they (or a raccoon) climb up the hook that I put mine on, and then they can chew the bottom to get the suet out. I needed to repair my suet feeder and hung a baffle below it on the hook! It works really well now.

A lot of work to feed some birds some animal fat and peanuts!!!

Also, there are some "squirrel proof" feeders out there that I guess work pretty well - check them out on the internet. I've never used one but it would be worth asking others.

I would echo what the previous poster said about a bird bath. Although you have water nearby, perching birds may/may not go in that as readily as they would a shallow bird bath. Water really attracts birds, I found that out this summer, I have 3 bird baths around our property now.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 4, 2009 at 11:25AM
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Also, many folks on this and the birdwatching forum will tell you that, besides providing water for birds, the next thing to do is plant native shrubs, flowers, vines, and trees as much as you can to provide food for them. There are a lot of plants for sale out there that are "native" for whatever your area and property would need. I'm sure there are plants already in your wetlands that are food sources, but if not, you could look into this and put some plants in that could possibly be food sources for birds all year.

I've started to do this myself with a number of plants, but all of these but one will not produce the food until at least next year, so for the time being I have feeders up. One person on this forum suggested doing that, and then phasing the feeders out somewhat when the plants are producing well.

Just another thought - hope it's helpful.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2009 at 2:36PM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

Hi, Paul.

For the cardinals, you will need a tray feeder. I have given up on keeping squirrels away. I have tried everything-I even tried heating a little vaseline and putting cayenne it, then slathering it on the feeder pole per suggestion from a friend. Decided against ever doing it again when a squirrel got some on a paw and (I guess) rubbed his eye. The sound was pitiful and horrifying-I didn't want to hurt him, just keep him off the feeder. Now, we coexist more or less peacefully. The dogs keep them away sometimes, but I just sprinkle some seed around the patio under the feeder for the squirrels, cardinals, and doves. I use hulled sunflower, so I don't have a mess to clean up. Peanuts are a treat from time to time. Pat (patlovesdirt)suggested putting unsalted (VERY important that you use unsalted) dry roasted peanuts in the processor to chop them before putting them on her deck railing. Works great. You can also put up squirrel feeder, but I haven't gone that far. I know there are some feeders that are triggered to close by a heavy weight such as a squirrel. Not sure how well they really work, but I am thinking of adding one of those. Deep down in my heart, I know the squirrels will figure out how to get around that-hanging down from the roof, maybe? Oh well. Don't waste your money on those fancy motorized ones that are supposed to flip the squirrels off. Tried one. Didn't work.

I agree with the idea of planting natives, but remember that many berries are not produced until summer or late summer for the most part, so don't expect those to provide year-round sustenance. I feed all year, but notice that I need to put out less in August, September, and early October. I use the plain suet and the squirrels never bother it. I've had mine hanging near one of the feeders for years. I know they will be attracted to the suet mixed with seed. Not sure about the kind mixed with insects. Suet is great for attracting woodpeckers and in the spring, lots of birds use it for feeding the babies.

Bird baths are great even if you have a wetland nearby. Your wife will love watching the birds splash. Blue jays are especially funny to watch and robins, too! I am up to six baths on our half-acre. They are spread out front and back, so it doesn't look like so many. You will need to have cover (trees, shrubs)near the feeders and baths.

Also, steer clear of pesticides and take it easy with herbicides, too. Not good for the birds.

I never thought it would be so much fun watching the birds. The birdsong in the morning and throughout the day is lovely and they are great for keeping insects/grubs/etc. under control, too. We have tons of birds now! enjoy!

    Bookmark   October 4, 2009 at 4:41PM
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Thanks everyone.

After surveying the area, I decided against the idea for using a thin wire. I think it would work except that it would have to be a really thin wire to prevent a squirrel from walking on it.

I have done the following

1. Set up a bird bath.
2. Put out some bird seed but this time coated with habrano oil that I made by cooking the habrano in some oil and the seepig the seed in it.
3. Put the suet feeder back up with some pepper suet plus coating it with some habrano oil.

So far, I have seen no birds today going for either the bath, seed or suet. I think because of the season, bird traffic through my yard is rather sparse. Unfortunately, the squirrel population is not. I guess I am not sure what birds will come so I don't know what type of feeder to use.

I notice that the squirrel was nibbling on the suede feeder. How in the world can squirrel eat habrano is beyond me. I eat hot food, and habrano is too hot.


    Bookmark   October 5, 2009 at 6:06PM
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I have read that if you string a wire from one tree to another, or a tree to your house, thread plastic soda bottles on it with the ends cut off. Squirrels can't hang on if they are tight together.

What works for me is a 4 x 4 treated post in the ground with sheet metal siding strips nailed on it all around and then a baffle above that. They used to take a run and scratch their way up the metal, but not a single one since the baffle was put on. I found that online, and even though it has a round opening, it works well on a square post.

I have arms at the top for feeders and a tray on the top of the post for seed or peanuts.

Actually I like the squirrels, but only want them to eat a certain amount so put out kernels of corn, BOSS and unsalted peanuts for them. There are two black gray squirrels that come running when they see me open the door with their food. :)

    Bookmark   October 6, 2009 at 8:34PM
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The bird bath is a bust. I think since I live near too many bodies of water, birds just don't need the bird bath. In fact, a group of mallard camp in the wetland during the night so I keep hearing their laughs all night.

The Suet feeder is visited by only one bird. There's a white bird that flies out from between the wetland grass, peck at it a few times and then fly right back. I am thinking that it may be a finch. The squirrels make hourly attempts at it, but it's hung with a long enough cable that most can't reach it. Those that do find that I have treated it with some habrano oil.

I am thinking of putting a a seed bell to see if any other birds come before I commit to a feeder. If I hang it with a long enough string, the squirrels won't be able to reach it, but do you think they will just pull the string up?

I thought about pulling up a tray feeder, but there's like a million squirrels nearby. The stuff in the tray will last an hour at most.

Today, I seen the most birds I have seen for the entire week:
1. Crows at the tree top, the never visit the yard though.
2. A flicker wandering around my lawn.
3. A robin wandering around my lawn.
4. A swarm of swallows (that never visit the yard either).
5. The large number of mallards that always seems to be nearby.


    Bookmark   October 10, 2009 at 12:59AM
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Min3 South S.F. Bay CA

woodlandgirl i would like to see that online squirrel baffle website especially if there were photos. would you post the url for us?
or could you post some photos of yours?

thanks, min

    Bookmark   October 10, 2009 at 10:22AM
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Birds should be on the move with the cold fronts this week. Making a guess that you are somewhere in the south if you still have swallows. They normally, not this year, leave about the 15th or so of September. This year I saw several swallows last weekend.

So not give into temptation and feed the water birds, ducks, geese, etc.

Try an establish a place that the birds will be able to scratch for bugs on warm days with a small pile of brush nearby for them to take cover in. The brush pile should be big enough that a hawk can not stick its beak down far enough to catch a bird at the bottom.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2009 at 11:28PM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

All the birds you mentioned eat mostly insects and the crows eat a lot of carrion. I've never seen a white finch in the wild-interesting. Other birds such as songbirds should find your bird bath and feeder if you are patient. It has only been a week since your first post! As maifleur said, be sure you are providing cover for the birds you are trying to attract.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2009 at 6:28PM
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I think the white bird is actually a Chickadee. I just saw a few golden finches, and it appears that they are still yellow in color. The flying behavior seems closer to the Chickadee.

I do notice that someone has been pecking at the Suet. There's squirrel bites, too, but so far the feeder is setup so that squirrel can only get to it with difficulty.

There is cover about 6 feet away from the bath in the form of 6 feet tall wetland grass, but may be it isn't enough. Next step is to setup a sunflower feeder, but I am saving up for a Brome Squirrel Buster with Cardinal ring. I am thinking that Squirrels will make short works out of a cheap feeder.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2009 at 1:38AM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

Six feet is probably too far and the songbirds would also probably prefer trees or shrubs to flee to if necessary. I have trees and shrubs all around my baths. Wet birds need an escape that is very close.

Good luck with the Squirrel Buster. I have never found anything that keeps them away successfully. We have learned to co-exist, although the dogs sometimes give them a run for the money.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2009 at 11:32AM
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terrene(5b MA)

It is very easy to keep squirrels off of feeders by installing them properly. My feeders are mounted on poles about 6 feet up from the ground with squirrel/raccoon baffles mounted on the poles about 4-4.5 feet off the ground. The poles are located at least 6 feet away from any shrubbery, trees, deck, etc. that the squirrels could use as a launching pad to get to the feeders. (Beyond that, you do need some cover nearby for the birds to escape predators.)

With this setup, it is easy to fill and clean the feeders, and 100% effective at keeping squirrels, raccoons, chipmunks, etc off of the feeders. And yes, sometimes it can take a few weeks to attract birds to the feeders.

Here's a pic of my feeding setup. The baffles are the black tube-looking things hanging on the poles on the right. The pole on the left is not baffled because those are just garden ornaments hanging on it. You can see that the feeders are about 6 feet away from a window, which makes bird-watching easy.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2009 at 8:10AM
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I agree about the baffles, totally! And to be careful about how high on the pole you place them. Too low and you are giving the squirrel assistance in climbing the pole! LOL

Also, I agree with the earlier poster about the need to be patient, with the bird bath and with the feeders. I just started with these things this summer and it took awhile, even though we have woods bordering our property.

Looking at your property photos, I am wondering whether it might be a good idea to put a feeder, on a pole, near the wetland. I wonder what birds might visit that, if they don't have to go far from their habitat. Just a thought. Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 14, 2009 at 10:08PM
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How do you put pics on here? I have them on Photobucket. Thanks for any help.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2009 at 9:55PM
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    Bookmark   October 15, 2009 at 10:05PM
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Do the birds mind having the feeder so close to the house?

There are more birds at the feeder now. A pair of Chicadees come just about every day. They are really shy. I position the feeder to be near the woodland so they can fly in and out of cover.

There are so few birds now. The only exceptions are ducks and geese. I am beginning to feel like I live near a duck and geese airport. They glide into the wetland on their migration to camp for a few hours before taking off.


    Bookmark   October 16, 2009 at 8:02PM
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I use a cone-shaped baffle on the pole that holds the feeder. It works very well as long as the feeder is away from overhanging branches that allow squirrels to jump.

The flipper didn't work well... the squirrels figured out how to hang on to the pole with their back toes and reach over to the feeder to pull out food without hanging on the flipping part!

I wrote about this in my gardening blog.


Here is a link that might be useful: Baffle the Squirrels and Feed the Birds

    Bookmark   October 17, 2009 at 8:30PM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

Cameron, your story is so funny. I bought one of those flippers, too. Same outcome, except the flipper was broken off one morning-overweight raccoon perhaps? Anyway, here's looking forward to your pics of those clever little pests with their ladder!

    Bookmark   October 18, 2009 at 6:53PM
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This might help you, altho our squirrels may be different kinds: Squirrels were eating all the ground-bird seed so I mixed the seed GENEROUSLY with red pepper flakes, & after one try, the squirrel never returned. The same with hanging bird feeders, which the squirrels used to tear apart. I make suet & always include a generous helping of red pepper flakes. I read that somewhere, & I think there must be a difference in how the flakes and other forms of pepper react with the squirrel. Now I have to put out special treats where I would like to watch squirrels.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2009 at 11:57PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Do the birds mind having the feeder so close to the house?

Hi Paulsiu, no they don't seem to mind at all! Some birds are more skittish than others - that is their temperament - but I get many visitors, esp. in the winter. Also, as birds become accustomed to the feeders, they are less shy. The birds will be spooked by sudden movements in the window however.

You can't really see it in the picture, but there are numerous evergreen and deciduous shrubs/trees near the feeders (10+ feet away) in that side yard, including 2 mature Yew trees and two large canopy trees. Having places to hide and escape to, makes the birds feel safe. They fly back and forth from the Yews to the feeders, the woodpeckers love to use the large oak tree trunk to navigate from, and many of the birds like to hang out in the branches of the large trees above. If you don't have any mature shrubs/trees in place already, you can plant some shrubs and create temporary cover for the birds by using loose piles of brush, evergreen boughs, and/or old Xmas trees.

One other thought - many many birds are killed by crashing into windows. I have read that it is recommended to place feeders either less than 5 feet from a window, or greater than 25 feet. This reduces the likelihood that birds will fly straight into a window at full speed, trying to escape a hawk in a panic.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2009 at 11:12AM
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I have used squirrel proof bird feeders for years with limited success. The feeder sits on a pole and the perch has a counter weight that can be adjusted. I have fine tuned it so that grackles cannot feed but cardinals can. Some grackles have figured out how to hover briefly and get a sunflower seed before the feeder closes. It's a lot of work for them and I've learned to live with it. Last year a few resourceful squirrels figured out how to defeat this feeder by leaping from the nearby fence and grabbing part of the feeder with a hind leg and dangling over the food. I started a squirrel relocation program by trapping them in a humane trap and taking them miles away to a state park. This got very old. I have now hung a plastic round disc (part of a squirrel proof feeder) by a wire just over my feeder. At first it scared the birds but they have since gotten used to it and the good news is I have finally won (I think). I'm sure some genius squirrel will figure this out eventually.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2009 at 9:27AM
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So far, the suet feeder have eluded the squirrels due mostly to luck. I use some duct tape to secure it so that the squirrel cannot pull it off the tree. Now they must hang upside down to get at it and it's typically too windy here.

I made another modification after I notice a cardinal staring at the feeder, but is unable to feed from it. I added a stick to the bottom of the feeder, so sometimes I see a cardinal perching on the branch and also a wood pecker.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2009 at 10:07PM
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Cardinals like to eat from a platform. One thing you may notice with your chickadee's and several other types of birds is that they will select one seed, fly away, eat it, then come back for one more seed. Taking and eating one at a time unless bad weather is close.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2009 at 11:38PM
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Good luck keeping the squirrels out of the birdfeeder.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2009 at 2:03PM
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Wow, that's a crazy picture. I am glad that I only have squirrels :-)


    Bookmark   October 28, 2009 at 7:09PM
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Now that there are quite a number of birds in the Suet feeder, I decided to install a sunflower feeder nearby. Holy smoke, the Chickadee may have like the Suet feeder, they really love the sunflower feeder. It's almost like a constant stream of darting Chickadee's. I suspect that they do this since they can only eat one seed at a time (they carry it somewhere else to break the seed open and then return).

I also installed a bungee squirrel feeder further away from the house to draw the squirrels. Ironically, they have yet to notice it (usually they discover anything within 5 min, which is why I find them so annoying).


    Bookmark   October 29, 2009 at 12:47PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Wow, it is amazing that the rope is holding that bear up!

Paul, Chickadees (as well as some other birds) will cache food when there is an abundance, so your little friends are probably hiding some of those seeds. This is one of the ways that birds survive over the winter and apparently Chickadees have very good memories and remember where they've hidden most of the seeds.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2009 at 7:53PM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

What a funny picture, momj!

terrene, I did not know that about chickadees! Very cool!

    Bookmark   November 8, 2009 at 11:50AM
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bernd ny zone5

I got a birdfeeder with a cylindrical baffle as shown by terrene. All cost me $200. My birds have no problem with squirrels which are not able to climb over that baffle. On the birdfeeder I have two dispensers with black sunflower seeds and one with suet. There was no demand for any other birdfood which my birds did not touch or simply shoveled to the ground. Since we view the birds from the kitchen's sliding glass door, over the deck, the feeder was placed about 8-10 ft further from the deck, also sufficiently away from pine branches. Squirrels could not jump to or drop onto the feeder.

Prior to that I used a very low cost construction with the same good results : a long fence post with cedar post bolted to it for height, all covered with a 4 inch diameter 5 ft long plastic pipe. I used an upside-down plastic pale as a baffle. (make sure that the pale sits on the pipe, and that the pale has the rim cut off, or squirrels will use it for leverage. Fill up the lower part of the pipe with gravel or mice will climb up inside) Then on top of all you can bolt horizontally some wood to the cedar pole and hang all the feeders from it as you wish.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2009 at 8:39PM
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I purchased this Contech SQRSTP-002 Squirrel Stop Squirrel Deterrent For Hanging Feeders
by Contech from Amazon. Works like a charm. I painted it to match my bird feeder.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2013 at 11:41AM
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