Squirrel-Proofing Your Bird Feeder: Tips and Tricks

Pet Care


December 7, 2021

Squirrels are often considered a menace to backyard bird feeders. Squirrels often feed on the same materials as birds do, so they will actively compete with birds for a spot at the feeder, typically winning because of their size and stubbornness compared to most birds that you would find in your backyard.

Whether you are looking to redirect the squirrels to their own dedicated feeders or you just want to keep squirrels away from your backyard entirely, you may try to come up with ways to prevent squirrels from climbing up the feeder. When doing this, it is important to keep in mind that squirrels are avid climbers, so there are only a few types of material that you can use to squirrel-proof your bird feeders.

How Do You Squirrel-Proof a Bird Feeder?

There are a few different steps that come with squirrel-proofing your bird feeder. The first step is making sure that the squirrel cannot climb up the feeder to harass the birds that are at it. The next step will be trying to stop the squirrel from physically grabbing food when it is at the feeder, although there isn’t much you can do about food that falls to the ground.

Trying to stop the squirrel from climbing to the feeder is often the most difficult step. By their very nature, squirrels are avid climbers that are able to tackle most surfaces, even ones that would seem completely smooth. Just think of all the times you have watched squirrels scale sleek metal poles because they are able to dig their claws into the surface to grip onto it.

With that being said, there are a select few surfaces that squirrels cannot adequately grip, causing them to slip and fall and making these surfaces perfect squirrel deterrents for your bird feeder.

Using PVC Pipe on Your Bird Feeder

As you look into this idea, you will stumble across the question of can squirrels climb PVC pipe or not, and the answer to this is that PVC pipe is one of the most easily accessible materials that you can purchase that squirrels are incapable of climbing. The particularly smooth surface of this material prevents squirrels from being able to hold onto it long enough to move up toward the feeder.

When you are looking to use PVC pipe, you will need to make sure that you have chosen the appropriate size. The pipe should have a diameter of four inches, at the minimum, and that it is at least four and a half feet taller than the ground. Once it has been installed around the bird feeder, you will want to drill holes into it that align with the feeder.

You also need to make sure that you place a cap or another sealing material on top of the PVC pipe. Some birds, especially the smaller ones, may fall down the pipe and get themselves trapped until they meet an untimely demise, and placing a cap on the PVC pipe prevents this from happening.

Other Squirrel-Deterring Practices

Using a PVC pipe to keep squirrels from getting to your bird feeder isn’t the only way to protect it. There are a couple other methods that you can consider to make sure that only your backyard birds have access to the seeds that you have left out for it.

One important tip to remember is known as the “5-7-9 Rule” and it helps to make sure that a squirrel cannot physically leap onto the feeder, spilling seed and disrupting the birds. Squirrels cannot jump more than five feet from the ground, more than seven feet from a tree, and more than nine feet from the side of a building. By keeping your feeder this far from all surfaces, you can further prevent squirrels from finding their way onto the feeder.

Depending on the type of feeder you have, you can also consider a contraption known as a squirrel spinner. As the name would suggest, these are designed to spin around as soon as a squirrel (or any animal of sufficient weight) lands on it, causing the squirrel to lose balance and interest in the bird feeder.

Altering the Food in the Feeder

If you are unable to move the feeder away from surfaces following the 5-7-9 rule, you can begin altering the food in the feeder to be more unappealing to squirrels while still keeping birds interested and frequenting the feeder.

One option is to dust all of the seeds with a small amount of cayenne pepper. Birds lack taste receptors for capsaicin, the compound that is responsible for that feeling of spiciness and heat, meaning that they will not be bothered by a small amount of this on their seeds (although you shouldn’t use too much as it can be damaging to their bodies). Squirrels, however, are not fans of this feeling and will stay far away from these spicy seeds.

Similarly, you can replace a majority of your birdseed with safflower seeds. Squirrels have little to no interest in safflower seeds as they have no nutritional value to the squirrel. The birds will remain interested and reliant on these seeds while the squirrels will attempt to find another source of food elsewhere.

Choosing Another Feeder

One option that you will want to look into are feeders that are specifically designed to be inaccessible to squirrels. This may end up deterring some of the birds with shorter beaks as well, but it may be worth it as the squirrels will slowly learn that they cannot get the food from inside of the feeder.

These feeders are typically designed for birds with longer beaks in mind. They have smaller openings for the seeds to come out of and are narrower as well. This allows for birds with long, narrow beaks to easily pick out the seed that they want, sometimes spreading seed on the ground for the ground feeders to enjoy. Squirrels, with their less-than-delicate hands and mouths, will not be able to access this food and will lose interest quickly.

With this in mind, you should also consider looking into feeders that squirrels would be unable to chew through. Any feeder that is made from wood or inexpensive plastic is at risk of being chewed through by a stubborn squirrel that knows there is food within. Instead, you should look at getting feeders that are made from metal or particularly tough plastic.

The Takeaway

Ultimately, having squirrels near your feeder is going to be inevitable. At best, you can get away with the squirrels hanging around the ground near the feeder along with ground-feeding birds. With the right practices, you can make sure that squirrels are either incapable of reaching the feeder itself or would have no interest in the feeder.

Using PVC pipe around the base of the feeder can prevent the squirrels from being able to climb up it and using the 5-7-9 rule will keep squirrels from being able to jump onto the feeder. You can also alter the food inside of the feeder to be less than appealing to squirrels through the use of cayenne pepper or safflower seeds. There are other practices that you can employ to keep squirrels away from the birdseed as well, though it may be tough as squirrels are considerably stubborn animals.