While they can be entertaining and fun to watch, most gardeners don’t feed the birds to fatten up the squirrels. Jean Vernon suggests some ways to stop the squirrels from eating the bird food.
It’s autumn and the wildlife is preparing for the onset of winter. They use the natural food available in our gardens to supplement their diet, feasting on fallen fruit, seeds, nuts and insects.
Squirrels are less active over the winter months and may sleep for days at a time, but they don’t hibernate. What they do do, which can send gardeners around the bend, is that they bury and stash food in caches all around the garden. So berries and nuts are virtually planted all over the place and are often forgotten, germinate and grow into new trees in very inappropriate places. That conker tree in the flowerpot – that was a squirrel. The little copse of hazels growing in the rockery – that was a squirrel.
These pockets of food are squirrel larders. Safe places packed out with nutrient rich food that they can find quickly when they wake from their slumber hungry and cold.
Like most creatures, squirrels will choose the best quality food over any thing else and that’s why your bird food is top of the menu. Not only is it designed to feed the birds with nutrient rich food packed with energy and goodness, but it is presented in large amounts in the garden and often in easy access places.
So a tube of peanuts or a seed feeder knocked from the bird station onto the floor is a Christmas feast for squirrels. They are extremely dexterous, agile and intelligent and will quickly learn how to balance on a bird feeder, open it up and access the food inside. And while watching the squirrel antics can be hilarious it’s not so funny when you’ve chosen top quality bird food like Richard Jackson Premium Bird Food to feed the birds.
There’s not really any such thing as a squirrel proof bird feeder, but some are better at resisting their attempts to steal the food. You can buy special feeders where the seed or peanut tube is encased in a cage that allows the small birds to feed but excludes larger birds and squirrels. Sometimes small squirrels can get through the bars and if the feeder is knocked to the ground then it may open to release the food to your resident squirrel.
There are also squirrel baffles that create a break between the feeding station pole and the feeders. This makes it more difficult for the squirrel to climb the pole and access the food. But if the feeding station has any branches above it, the cheeky squirrels will drop down to the feeders and get to the bird food that way.
Location, location, location
Put your feeding station in an open position away from overhanging branches, fences or other means of access. Squirrels and cats can lurk nearby waiting for a chance to pounce on the bird food or the feeding birds. Make sure it’s all in view of your house so you can watch the soap opera antics.
Squirrels are rather partial to a lot of things in our gardens, especially the bird food. But they will also dig up tulip bulbs and eat them. They love apples, squash and sweet corn and collect masses of acorns, conkers and nuts.
Why not feed the squirrels with a special feeder full of hazelnuts then you get the best of both worlds, you can watch the birds, and the squirrels too.
Tips to stop squirrels eating bird food
- To stop the squirrels eating your bird food, mix chilli flakes generously with the bird food before you add it to the feeder.
- Always present the bird food in a suitable feeder to make it more difficult for squirrels and other rodents to access.
- Clear up any spilt bird food that falls beneath your bird feeder; use an old tray to catch the seed.
- Store your bird food in a metal feed bin inside a shed, garage or utility room to protect it from squirrels and other rodents.
- When planting tulip and crocus bulbs sprinkle flaked chillis generously over the bulbs and soil where you plant to protect them from being eaten.
- You can also put a layer of chicken wire over the bulbs after planting to deter squirrels.
- Alternatively make a spray of strong smelling ingredients such as garlic or peppermint. Spray this around any areas you want to protect from squirrels, they have very sensitive noses and don’t like the smell.