20/07/2010
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Hands off my nuts

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Vaseline, chilli and plastic bottles wouldn't usually be associated with feeding garden birds. But such household items can help ensure that the intended avian visitors enjoy your hospitality. It's a busy time of year in gardens, with many birds feeding young. But many people get frustrated when their bird-food is snapped up by Grey Squirrels, and the RSPB is suggesting safe and simple ways of deterring them.

Greenfinch
Greenfinch, Newmarket, Lewis, Outer Hebrides (Photo: Jack Wright)

Grey Squirrels are increasingly common garden visitors, attracted by the food people put out for birds. While some people regard them with affection and even encourage them, others want to deter them. Squirrels are acrobatic, ingenious and tenacious raiders of bird feeders, and keeping them off can be a difficult task. The best way to reserve food for birds is to use barriers that prevent squirrel access. And whilst no deterrent is 100% effective in all situations, many can make a huge difference.

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Grey Squirrel feeding on a cake feeder. (Photo: Nigel Blake (rspb-images.com))

The RSPB suggests:

  • Fixing a squirrel baffle or cone to the pole of a bird table or feeder to prevent them climbing up the pole
  • Fixing a dome or disc of suitable size above a hanging feeder to prevent them climbing down to it
  • Enclosing a feeder, bird table or ground feeding tray inside a wire cage
  • Smearing the pole of a bird table or feeder with Vaseline or other grease
  • Dusting birdfood with chilli powder or Tabasco sauce, which won't affect birds but will discourage squirrels
  • If the feeder is hung from a washing line, thread the line through a length of hosepipe or a plastic coke bottle on each side
  • Placing tables and feeders somewhere central, i.e. not near to a fence or wall, so squirrels can't jump onto them from above. This also reduces the risk of cats catching your garden birds
  • Leaving out a sacrificial amount of bird seed i.e. a small pot that is uncovered and easily accessed by squirrels so they don't need to try and access your bird feeders so much

Goldfinch
Goldfinch, Newmarket, Lewis, Outer Hebrides (Photo: Jack Wright)

Val Osborne, Head of Wildlife Enquiries at RSPB, commented: "Many people like seeing squirrels and are fascinated by their erratic movements and amusing behaviour. But we also get endless calls from frustrated gardeners who are fed up with seeing all their bird seed eaten by squirrels. To some extent I'm afraid we need to accept that they are quite creative and very determined and we will never be able to deter them completely. But the measures we suggest can make a difference and should at least reduce the problem."

Written by: RSPB