BASIC CRITTER SOLUTIONS
Sixth installment in a series
I often joke in the store with the comment that we deal in solutions, not problems. That’s just my terrible sense of humor. But really, we try to find solutions to the issues you all come across when trying to feed your birds, and not all the other critters that come to visit.
In Jim Carpenter’s book “The Joy of Bird Feeding,” he has two chapters devoted to “Critter Solutions” and “Situations and Solutions (Chapters 7 & 8). There are an unlimited number of situations to be addressed. The most common is trying to defeat the squirrels, which we are pretty good at doing and learning more every day. Here are some ideas about how to Feed ‘em or Defeat ‘Em (get the book for a more extensive treatment of the subject)!
Since there seems to be no in-between with our furry visitors, take the approach of Feed ‘em or Defeat ‘em. When you choose to Feed ‘em, select foods they like and locate them away from your feeders. Squirrels like all kinds of nuts, pumpkin seeds, striped sunflower, cobb corn (not cracked corn) and more. One food I often recommend is our Squirrel Nut Munch, offered on a spike-like feeder. This is a mix of ground corn and nuts, compressed into a hard log. It’s nutritious, and since it is hard, it helps wear down their 4 front incisor teeth which grow continually. Keeping those teeth worn down so they don’t hook up into their mouth is often a reason they will chew things up in the yard.
If you are feeding squirrels, using a box feeder with a lid they can lift protects the food from weather, and from birds. Often referred to as “Pandora’s Box” these feeders let you know when the squirrel is around, as you will hear the clunk of the lid as he retrieves his prize. These can be post or fence-mounted and will provide you with endless entertainment. If you don’t have a feeder, put the food in an old plant saucer on the ground or a table, and let them munch away.
What to do if you don’t want the squirrels in the yard? Folks have been trying for decades to defeat these clever guys (after 19 years of success, “Mr. Cheeky” has shown up in my yard and beat almost everything I’ve done to keep him off the feeders). The two primary things to do is offer foods they don’t like or put up physical barriers to keep them off feeders.
With their wide range of preferred foods, it’s often difficult to beat squirrels. We know they have a good sense of taste. At WBU, we have developed a line of hot pepper products that are pretty good at turning the squirrels away. These include seed cylinders (No Mess, Cranberry, Hot Pepper), hot Bark Butter Bits, and Hot Pepper Suet Dough cakes and cylinders. Many squirrels are turned away by the spicy flavor, but the birds are fine with it.
Safflower is the one seed that most squirrels hate because it is bitter, so they tend to leave it for the birds. However, it has a shell, so there is some mess associated with it. Once the birds learn to eat it, it is a seed they love because it is so oil-rich.
For loose seed, we offer Cole’s Flaming Squirrel™ Seed Sauce. This liquid hot pepper sauce can be mixed with the seed and placed in your feeder. Follow the directions carefully for best results. Many customers have told us that the sauce is quite effective. When handling any hot pepper product, we recommend that you wear gloves, and wash your hands thoroughly after handling. For the hot pepper sauce, we recommend that you get a separate bucket and mixing spoon dedicated to this process.
Physical methods of beating the squirrel are numerous. They include pole baffles, cover baffles, cages, devices that provide a mild shock, feeders that spin or tip the squirrel off, feeders that mechanically close and more. I prefer baffles, feeders that close mechanically or the cages. Remember that squirrels can jump vertically 4 to 4-1/2 feet and can leap as far as 10 feet laterally. They can also learn to jump from tree limbs and whack feeders as they go by, knocking seed to the ground.
Feeders that close under the weight of the squirrel include the WBU Eliminator and Fundamental, and Brome’s Squirrel Buster series. The Eliminator is a foundational feeder and should need filling about twice a week. Next in size is the WBU Fundamental Squirrel Resistant feeder, then the Squirrel Buster Standard and Mini. The latter two have a small capacity, so may need frequent refilling. The Eliminator and the Standard have spring tension adjustments which can help deter larger birds.
Physical baffles, when installed correctly on a feeder setup placed outside the leaping distance of a squirrel, are very effective. Not only will they “baffle” most squirrels but will keep many other rodents and critters off the feeder by preventing them from coming up the pole. If racoons are an issue, there is a long version of the standard chimney-type baffle that will keep them from climbing the pole. Both short and long baffles are also available for 4x4 wood posts. Tops of baffles should be placed 5’ above the nearest launch point for a squirrel.
For hanging feeders, there is a variety of baffles, both dome-shaped and flat, that can be used. The minimum diameter should be at least 15 inches. When purchasing a hanging baffle, follow the guidelines laid out on pages 314-315 of The Joy of Bird Feeding to evaluate whether a baffle will work with your feeder. Thanks for reading.
EnJOY your birds. And remember, THE JOY OF BIRD FEEDING is available in the store at $21.99. It’s a great “how to” with over 500 photographs, along with a field guide to 180 backyard birds from across the country.