Winter wildlife: feed the birds, not the squirrels... cayenne, et al
- greygarious Nov 1, 2012 12:13 PM
Without buying a pricey "squirrel-proof" feeder that may not live up to its promise, hot chili is a good way to foil greedy, destructive squirrels. You can buy additives for wild bird seed at the feed store, but it's just hot pepper/cayenne in different, pricier packaging. Mix about a half-cup of it into 10lbs of seed - shake it up in a well-sealed container and don't open it right away unless you want to sneeze and gasp as you dab your burning eyes. Birds are unaffected by it but squirrels won't bother your feeders. I don't know iwhether or not other rodents share that aversion.
It's not that I want the squirrels to starve - I do put out cheaper seed, and bread, for them. I just don't want them monopolizing and chewing up the bird feeders, in which I use shelled sunflower. Another idea I came up with that works to slow the squirrels down is to fill empty milk cartons and the like with seed, then water, freeze, then peel off the container and put the frozen block outside, where the squirrels will gnaw at it rather than scattering seed all around. I also use ice cube trays or styrofoam egg cartons to freeze unshelled peanuts and other nuts into ice cubes for the squirrels.
Any other low-tech ideas for wildlife feeding?
I tried the hot chili idea on my suet feeders, The squirrels ate them just as fast! The squirrel-proof feeders my Mom has, have been a good investment for her. She has two, one is a tube feeder inside a sphere of wire. The little birds can fly in and get the sunflower seeds, the squirrels look alike those motorcycle stunt drivers going around in a round cage. Works perfectly! The other one she has, is one of those weighted ones, where once too much weight is on the outside, the feeding holes become covered. This also works.
But the Chili did NOT work at all. In the past I have used safflower seeds, which the birds will eat, but squirrels hate. After a month or so, I can switch back, because the squirrels stopped coming by for a snack.
Maybe the squirrels in your area have developed a tolerance to chili, or perhaps it's because you used it on suet. As we know, fat neutralizes the mouth burn of capsaicin. Or maybe you did not use enough pepper.
One of those cage-encircled tube feeders worked a charm here for decades (except that the larger birds couldn't access the seed and the squirrels stole the seed on the flat feeder). Then a red squirrel claimed my yard as his territory. He could fit right through the wire mesh, and didn't content himself with scooping out mouthfuls of seed; he gnawed out all the seed ports. He did not return the next winter, but I was unable to find another feeder in that (pricey) design. Got one with mesh right around the tube. Squirrels just scoop it out.
One winter we had a squirrel around that was a real chili head. I used about a cup of cayenne to 5 pounds of sunflower chips equal to four times the dose greygarious used. This squirrel loved it. Squirrels can be quite idiosyncratic in what they like.
I've had mixed success with the cayenne, some squirrels just plain like it! I made a cone shaped baffle that mounts on my feeder post that keeps the grey rats off my feeders. Works great unless the snow gets too deep and the squirrels are able to jump over it. I don't mind if they eat, but they usually damage my feeders.
My solution has been to place the post within 4" diameter PVC piping (wider may be more effective). Most (especially the smaller squirrels) have a very difficult time trying to climb the wide diameter piping - especially when the piping is new. A few have made it to the top, but I then take down the feeder for a few days and they seem to lose interest. As a side note, it's amusing to see them play "fireman" - jumping up and then sliding down the piping.
Please please please don't put cayenne in your feeders to discourage squirrels! This can cause a squirrel to literally scatch its own eyes out trying to stop the pain - it's a cruel way to deal with this problem. Imagine if you got cayenne in your face - you know how that feels and it's not much different for a squirrel.
Use a good squirrel baffle - we have a tubular one that sits over the pole and keeps the squirrels off the feeder. Or buy a squirrel-resistant feeder - one that shuts down with the weight of something other than a bird. OR just deal with it. Put out a separate feeder for squirrels and let them eat too. My house is literally surrounded with black walnut trees - at any given time I can see up to 8 squirrels romping around out there, so I do understand that they can be annoying, gluttonous pests. But at the same time it's not ok to cause suffering to an animal because you want to feed one thing but not another.
I know that most people don't realize how bad the cayenne strategy is - so I'm not laying blame. Just asking you to stop doing it because it's horrible.