As many of you have already guessed, I have squirrels in my back yard and have since I started feeding birds in 2003. I’ve written before about their antics and some of the challenges with them. I’ve said before that it’s not something you should do without doing some research first. If you want to feed squirrels you do need to understand what you’re getting into potentially.
With this being winter in the US, I thought it would be a good time to talk about this again. Winter is the time they are scavenging for food and a place to have their young. I just felt it would be timely advice.
Plus, this week I watched a Brome Bird News segment where their resident ornithologist, Dr. Bird (his real name) advised against feeding squirrels. His main issue was that they are destructive toward birding habitat. I don’t think he was keen on seeing their numbers increase either.
I wanted to counter with my advice for those who are considering feeding squirrels or just have them on your property. I’ll lay out the major areas of concern and how I believe you can avoid problems in those areas.
- Invasion of Bird Nesting Spaces
- Competition for Bird Food
- Destruction of Property
Then, I’ll conclude with my experiences and why I support feeding them.
Invasion of Bird Nesting Spaces
I hear a lot about how squirrels will get into bird houses and cause all kinds of mayhem. From breaking eggs to killing young to destroying the house, I’ve heard all the horror stories. Here is how I’ve dealt with this threat.
As soon as I figured out I had squirrels in my back yard, I started consulting with my local bird store for help. Their immediate reply: baffle your bird houses and do not place them anywhere near a tree. By anywhere near I mean away or below too. A squirrel is able to fall 100 feet onto ground and walk away. I’ve personally seem youngsters jump out of trees on top of my feeders so I mean NOWHERE near a tree.
The baffle prevents them from being able to climb on top of the house and fish around inside. If you do these two things alone, you won’t have any problems with squirrels bothering your nesting birds if they are cavity dwellers. If not, you’ve got to realize feeding squirrels WILL endanger birds that nest in low branches of trees, for instance. Most of the non-cavity nesting birds in my back yard make their nests elsewhere.
Competition for Bird Food
I think the main problem I see here all the time is people underestimating squirrels. Just because you have food at the top of a shiny pole don’t think they can’t get to it! Like the nest box issue, you need to invest in a baffle and not place feeders where they can be jumped onto. Same above and away rule applies.
Because my property borders a wooded common area, I invested a little more in a raccoon baffle (which is longer) and it has paid off many times. If you know you have raccoons and want to continue feeding birds, it’s worth the extra investment.
You should also make sure any feeders you have that are not baffled are squirrel proof feeders like Brome Bird Care sells. They are high quality and their customer service and guarantee are next to none. You can get feeders that are hopper or tube feeders that have mechanisms in them close off food for any squirrel that gets on them.
I’ll just add that this is another area where bird food manufacturers will tell you just to switch what your feeding. While it’s true squirrels don’t care for a food like safflower much, do you really want them crawling all over your feeders to find that out? I know I don’t-LOL!
Destruction of Property
Here is probably the hottest of the issues with feeding squirrels that I know of. Being rodents, they do have a destructive streak in them. Plants, and yard fixtures are among their folly. However, the hot button issue with homeowners is them getting into your house or attic.This is potentially the most expensive threat of any I know of. Having them chew their way into your attic, have babies, soil and tear up your attic and any contents could cost you thousands. I have personal experience that might have some changing their minds about feeding squirrels.
Notice I said “could” in the last paragraph. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are my tips for keeping their destructive and invasive tendencies at bay.
Once again, I’ve got to lead by saying Do NOT Underestimate Them, EVER!
If you want to feed squirrels and enjoy them as I do, you’ll make sure to:
- Cut back any trees or bushes that give them easy access to your gutters and roof.
- Have your gutters cleaned and inspected by a competent service. Angie’s List is a great place to start looking. You want to make sure they are able to check fascia and soffit boards for any sign of damage. Repair as necessary. The main place I’ve had trouble with them is where the roof hangs over the gutter.
- If you are not willing to have your gutters, roof and structures checked at least annually, I would advise against feeding squirrels in your back yard.
- Once again, do not underestimate them, ever! If you or your tech sees a problem, fix it! NOW! Otherwise, they WILL find a way in.
So, has this article got you running for the hills or do you believe you can safely feed squirrels? I honestly believe it is a very pleasurable thing to do if you know the rules. I’ve outlined the major ones above but let me share a few more tidbits here.
- Don’t believe you can “make a pact” with your squirrels by giving them their own food and feeders. They don’t understand those rules and will find your feeders and clean them out!
- Don’t kill them! Besides my having a soft spot for them in my heart, it’s just not a good idea. Besides the threat of poison, traps and firearms on your other back yard guests, it’s not smart ecology. When some are killed, others will move in! Guaranteed!
- Don’t give them food they love. Give them food that’s good enough. I feed a wildlife mixture that’s heavy in corn that they eat just fine. Why do I say this? If you feed food they love, they will come from miles around! The word travels fast-LOL! I know from experience what it’s like to wake up to thirteen squirrels in my back yard! Any of those squirrel logs are a BIG no-no because they have suet bases and squirrels will kill to get them. I’ve watched one of those squirrel logs be completely destroyed in a few hours.
- Put up a squirrel box for their food and by all means, you have to get a squngee to hang off a tree limb. The entertainment value from one of those is just huge!
Tell me about your experiences, good and bad with squirrels. I’m always interested in hearing new approaches. Leave me a comment below and we’ll talk about it.
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Here’s to feeding squirrels successfully on YOUR terms!
There is also a small book called “Enjoying Squirrels More (Or Less!)” by the people at Bird Watcher’s Digest. It’s a quick and fun read that may help you if you’re on the fence.