Bird feeding is huge! It’s one of the top 5 outdoor activities and really grew in popularity recently as property owners of all sizes became more in tune with their landscapes during the pandemic.
As my colleague Dave Robson with the University of Illinois indicates, when you try to provide food for songbirds, many other outdoor creatures consider themselves invited to the feast. Following are some suggestions for reducing problems from squirrels, mice, rabbits and other critters.
Most likely, the biggest problem that arises when feeding birds is squirrels trying to take the bird seed. Although squirrels are part of nature and many people feel that their feeding is acceptable, others get very upset when they arrive at the feeder.
In addition to their initial feeding, squirrels are capable of tearing apart many feeders and carrying seed away to be stored for later use, just as they do with acorns and other seeds in the fall. They can be kept out of a feeder by mounting it on a slender metal pole that they are unable to climb. The feeder should be at least 6-7 feet off the ground so that they will not be able to jump onto the feeder from the ground. Locating the feeder 15-20 feet away from a tree branch, house roof or other object that they may use to jump onto the feeder will also decrease the access to the bird food.
If this isn’t feasible, wrapping sheet metal or smooth plastic around a wooden post will provide additional resistance to their feeding activity. Another option is to place plastic or metal baffles beneath or above the feeder. These can be purchased from a hardware or specialty bird feeding store.
Two other techniques can be used in the effort to reduce squirrel access. The first is a type of feeder that utilizes a spring mechanism to close the openings to the bird food when an animal heavier than a songbird – a squirrel in this case – jumps onto the feeding platforms. These types of feeders are usually outfitted with stiff galvanized steel wires over the openings, placed such that songbirds such as finches, juncos and cardinals can gain extract food, but the squirrels cannot. They are especially effective when the pole height, material and placement fail to deter hungry squirrels.
The second additional technique is to supply a food source that they are not as attracted to such as safflower seed instead of sunflower seed. Yes, squirrels will eat safflower seed, especially if they have no other food sources, but it’s far from their first choice. Safflower will not attract quite as many songbirds as sunflower seed will, but is desired by most of them. And, if the problem is deterring squirrels, having a few less nice looking birds is considered by most to be far better than the brown furry problematic critters aka “tree rats”.
Providing ear corn is a popular notion favored by some bird feeders with the advantages of providing another squirrel favored food source and reducing damage to wooden feeders, however, mice, voles and bully birds are attracted to corn as well, which creates another problem. Feeding ear corn is the proverbial experience of “trading one problem for another”. Overall, using common sense with a few of the techniques above will create a favorable songbird feeding environment.