As a nation of wildlife enthusiasts prepares to feed the birds this autumn, garden birders can breathe a sigh of relief that Haith’s – the bird food specialist – has plenty of tricks up its sleeve to help outwit marauding squirrels and protect the nation’s peanuts.
Earlier in 2015, Haith’s conducted market research to find out what were the most common problems associated with feeding wild birds and it came as no surprise to them that, the grey squirrel was responsible for damaging bird feeders and taking more than their fair share of seeds and peanuts, which often meant birds going hungry.
Not one to shy away from a challenge, Haith’s has in response put together a collection of products and strategies to help birders give greedy squirrels the cold shoulder this autumn.
Invest in squirrel “resistant” feeders:
“If there’s one thing garden birders find worse than squirrels pilfering – it’s squirrels damaging bird feeders. Squirrels do not respect the latest gizmo from the garden centre and if it’s not tough, robust and yet safe and accessible for birds you’re wasting your money, as it could be destroyed in a single squirrel’s supper sitting,” explains Simon King from Haith’s.
Squirrel-resistant bird feeders are available in all shapes and sizes and either caged or not caged. Cages are designed to keep squirrels away from the food and yet allow small birds to slip easily between the bars to feed.
Some feeders offer squirrel-resistance without the cage – these feeders are really offering a feeder that’s resistant to squirrel damage; however, grey squirrels will be able to remove food from them by using the same feeding ports the birds use. This is a good feeder to choose when birders don’t mind feeding the occasional squirrel, but do mind them destroying bird feeders.
Customising bird feeders can keep squirrels guessing:
A Bird Feeding Station allows bird feeders to be moved into open ground – away from trees – where the squirrel has to be more tenacious and daring to take tidbits.
Feeders suspended from a tree branch can be retro fitted with a Squirrel Dome, which fits above just about any bird feeder. Its dome-shaped, durable and bite-proof polycarbonate surface is slippery and unstable to squirrels, which stops them from gaining access to a suspended bird feeder. The Squirrel Dome also keeps cats off feeders as they, too, can’t hold on to the dome.
Fitting a Squirrel Baffle to a feeding station pole stops squirrels from launching a successful assault on the feeding station as it’s too wide and slippery for squirrels to hurdle.
For the belt and braces approach, a Squirrel Slinky can be added to feeding poles which further prevents squirrels from ascending in reach of the nation’s premium peanuts. These simple to introduce strategies will keep the birds feeding throughout autumn.
If all else fails, switch bird food recipes:
Swop to a bird food squirrels don’t like – if you feed peanuts you are (more) likely to feed Grey Squirrels. Niger seed – for example – isn’t appreciated by squirrels and the nature of the tiny, almost weightless, seeds doesn’t suit the way a squirrel feeds.
“Niger seed shows a cold shoulder to squirrels but it’s worshiped by Goldfinches, Siskins and Long-tailed Tits. The problem is that, these birds won’t just “arrive” – they are the opposite of squirrels and require cajoling. Thankfully the wooing of Niger worshippers requires just three simple things: Niger seed, a Niger feeder and a little patience,” explains Simon.
Tipping the balance:
Haith’s have invested in sourcing a range of weight triggered anti-squirrel bird feeders which aim to feed the birds and not the squirrels. In each case, bird feeder manufacturers have gone through the torment of creating a device that’s 100% capable of excluding squirrels, whilst including the birds. Generally these innovative feeders work because part of the feeder is spring-loaded and a squirrel’s weight forces the feeding ports to close – which means the squirrels cannot feed. As soon as the squirrel jumps off the feeder, the feeding ports are re-opened, which means the birds are once again safe to feed.
Finally, if you can’t beat ‘em:
Provide Grey Squirrels with their very own squirrel feeder, and then fill it with a seed mix or special seed mix for squirrels. Bill Oddie takes this approach in his garden and it’s common for squirrels to show the decorum of sticking to “their” feeder – as long as it remains full of seed – and leaving the birds to consume whatever remains in the bird feeder which – by this point – now resembles a space ship.
If your squirrel is capable of finding its way past all these devices and strategies, Haith’s offer this final consolation: “Defeat is made more palatable when one remembers that the grey squirrel is indeed very much part of Britain’s wonderful wildlife, and if that doesn’t help – try remembering what Bill Oddie said: “It isn’t their fault they were introduced into Britain from America because someone thought they were cute. Oops!”