Keep an eye on your bird food – the squirrels are coming! That’s what the British Trust for Ornithology is saying, as a third more squirrels will invade our gardens this year than in the same period over the last three years.
The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) puts the squirrel invasion down to patchy seed and nut availability in the countryside this autumn, which means that all kinds of wildlife will be foraging for alternative food. As a result, there could be tough competition at bird feeders – not just between different bird species, but between birds and squirrels too.
Squirrels: welcome or unwanted?
This is bad news for anyone who considers squirrels to be pests, as many people don’t want to share their expensive bird food with them. Squirrels not only empty feeders at an alarming rate, but often wreck them in the process. They can even deter the boldest birds from visiting.
The BTO has suggested a few deterrents to keep squirrels away from your bird food. Try using bird feeders that have a metal guard around the food, allowing access to small birds but not squirrels or larger birds. You could try spring-loaded bird feeds, which use a squirrel’s body weight to close feeding ports when it comes to eat.
You could also try using a baffle, which are domes you attach to the feeder pole that cause squirrels to slip off. Vaseline on smooth feeder poles can have a similar effect! You could even dust chilli powder onto your bird food, turning the heat up for the squirrels while your birds won’t be affected.
Although we’d never condone it – we’ve even seen a feeder that spins when a squirrel lands on it, throwing it off.
An army of super-smart squirrels
At Which? Gardening, we have tested squirrel-proof bird feeders in the past, and some were better than others. One of our Best Buys included a weight-activated mechanism that closes the feed ports whenever a squirrel climbs on it. Another came with a round cage surrounding the feeder that excludes all but the tiniest squirrels.
Our triallists around the country have recorded the ingenious ways squirrels avoid being caught out by some squirrel-proof feeders. For example, some sneaky squirrels avoid putting their full body weight on feeders by resting on a branch or a second bird feeder.
While some bird feeders worked well, we’d hesitate to say that any product is 100% squirrel proof. Do you think squirrel-proof bird feeders are effective? Or have you developed any ingenious methods of your own you’d like to share?