Are squirrels cute and cuddly or fierce and fiendish? I will be the judge. (And I already decided the latter.)
Squirrels are no joke. That is why we stopped laughing and got serious. How serious? We will not even begin this post with a squirrel joke.
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Stop squirrels from using bird feeders
We have all been there. You are at the sink, thoroughly scrubbing a coffee mug with a healthy dose of "Joy" liquid dish soap and an overly-used $0.50 sponge hastily bought from the local grocer. You look out the kitchen window at your bird feeders, enjoying the various sparrows, finches, and chickadees utilizing your bird buffet. Then suddenly, you are overcome with an overwhelming rage, a fury with the force of 10,000 suns! You have just spotted your backyard adversary, a fox squirrel.
We can already see the hordes of people lining up to say that we should let the squirrels be. However, our deterrent is safe, humane, and healthier for the squirrels. You read that correctly. Deterring the squirrels is a better option than allowing them to feed. Why? Disease and dependency. Feeding a wild animal (other than birds) is frequently a death sentence for that animal. In fact, most areas outlaw the feeding of non-bird animals. So, if you really want to help that squirrel, deter it, and do not feed it.
You have tried all the squirrel prevention tips out there: an anti-squirrel cone device, a fake owl, a real dog, pounding on the windows, swearing in a falsetto, and dashing out in your robe and slippers (hopefully not scarring your neighbor's eyes). If you would prefer to not harm a squirrel performing its squirrely duties, you are left with no more options. Or are you?
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Want to really get into the mind of a squirrel to stop their feeder raids? Read our favorite squirrel-deterring book: Outwitting Squirrels: 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels
The Best Squirrel Repellant | Keep Squirrels Off Your Bird Feeders
This summer, I had several squirrels regularly visiting my feeders. While they were not cleaning out my seed stash, they were leaving a noticeable dent. They were also preventing the local birds from visiting my "smorgasbird." (See what I did there? I combined smorgasbord with bird to create smorgasbird.) I combed through tips, tricks, ideas, and public indecency laws (my neighbors now have blinds). During this extensive research, I stumbled upon a humane way to deal with my problem using a non-lethal squirrel repellent:
Cayenne Pepper is one of the best humane squirrel repellents available!
Cayenne pepper is a GREAT squirrel repellent. Why? The chemical in cayenne pepper is the same chemical used in pepper spray, a common deterrent for bears and humans. Why couldn't it also act as a deterrent for squirrels?
If you live in an area with excessive winds, powdered cayenne pepper may cause issues. Luckily for you, you windblown soul, there is a liquid product that works great as a spray! Yes, I said spray. You may note some directions say to mix it with the seed, but I recommend giving it a small dilution and using it as a spray bottle, only spraying the seed after you have set it in the feeders. You can also spray areas the squirrels climb, including poles and suet blocks.
Cole's Flaming Squirrel Seed Sauce | A hot sauce for birdseed
Capsaicin: safe for birds, an annoyance to mammals
Capsaicin is the component of peppers that makes your mouth feel hot. Growing up in a southern household, we were never without multiple types of red pepper seasonings. You may also recognize it for its use in pepper spray. (And I can personally attest to the effectiveness of pepper spray, as I have an embarrassing story from my childhood where I managed to pepper spray myself.)
Mammals, like fox squirrels, are subject to the effects of a low concentration of capsaicin. They can feel the heat of 10 - 100 ppm, which is the heat equivalency of a single jalapeño pepper. Some may think birds are lacking the anatomy that causes mammals to feel "spicy." However, that would appear to be incorrect. Birds and mammals both have the "capsaicin receptor," but due to some scientific explanation that would require another hour of typing, their receptors can handle a higher concentration (ppm) than mammals.
What does all this mean? It means you need to "pepper spray" your birdseed. After discovering this trick, I tested a powdered cayenne pepper on my feeders. The squirrels had become as aware of my feeding schedule as the birds, so I covered all loose seeds in a healthy dose of cayenne pepper upon my morning feeding. The sparrows were the first to arrive, eating the seeds with no obvious signs of distaste. The first squirrel arrived less than 10 minutes after the seeds were placed. It crawled out onto my platform feeder, sniffing and grabbing seeds. I watched. I waited. I resisted the urge to throw a shoe...
Wait for it. Wait for it. WHOA! The squirrel began sneezing and rubbing its face. After 30 seconds of trying to eat the seeds, the squirrel gave up and ran off to tend to its flaming nose and mouth. At least one male and one female had been haunting my feeders. The female arrived later in the morning and shared a similar experience to the male.
The next big question was, would they come back?
Check out some of our other posts:
The method for stopping squirrels with cayenne pepper
I performed the task of peppering my feeders and seed for 3 to 4 days in the spring, and my feeders were squirrel-free for over a month. They did show up occasionally, but they only fed on seed on the ground. I decided this was an acceptable compromise. By the end of the summer, I had three new squirrels. How did I know they were new? They were young squirrels. I "seasoned" my feeders several more times in August, and I did not have a squirrel on my feeder until the last weeks of November.
How do we spell success? P-E-P-P-E-R!
Yes, your answer for the best squirrel repellant is cayenne pepper. (Or some other capsaicin-based seasoning/oil).
Fat Black Squirrel
In the summer of 2020, we attempted to use cayenne pepper as a test on a much larger pest:
Bear repellent for bird feeders?
The above photos were taken by Bart Rea, who allows us to operate a research station out of his cabin. We fill the feeders when we are present, and the bear obliges us by emptying them out overnight and on off days.
In the summer of 2020, I tested multiple capsaicin-based methods of bear repellant on the bird feeders. I reasoned if capsaicin bear spray can stop a grizzly from attacking me, I am sure we can prevent unprovoked bear attacks on bird feeders. The cayenne pepper did deter the bear from the feeders we tested it on. The feeders without pepper were... demolished. The long-term viability of cayenne pepper use against bears needs more time. However, cayenne pepper does seem like a great short-term deterrent for bears and a lasting deterrent for squirrels.
Try a trail cam like the GardePro A3 to enjoy your feeders even when you’re gone!
Again, we remind you, deterring wild mammals from being fed is your RESPONSIBILITY when you feed birds. You do not help wild mammals by feeding them. However, you can cause harm to them by allowing them to feed at will. Capsaicin in low concentrations will have no lasting effect on the squirrels or bears.
Disclaimer: If your pets eat the seasoned seed, they may also have a bad experience. Do not let your pets eat or smell the seasoned seed. And please, consider wearing a mask when applying the cayenne pepper.
Want to try a different method? Try these:
Squirrel-proof Bird Feeders
Bird feeders are not inherently 'squirrel-proof,' but a handful of feeders on the market discourage continuous use by squirrels. Here are two of my favorites. These do not require electricity and are under $100. (If you want the crazy "throw-the-squirrel" feeder, here it is. I am not a fan of it due to its feeder ports; ports greatly aid the spread of feeder-borne diseases.)
Squirrel Resistant Feeder: Woodlink Squirrel Resistant Feeder
Birdseed with a touch o' spice
Want to try birdseed with some built-in spice? Some seed producers add the 'heat' to the seed before packaging, helping to eliminate your extra effort. These products are not my favorite, as they can lose effectiveness over time. However, give this a try if you want a quick and 'potential' solution.
Wild Delight Squirrel-Proof Birdseed
Will cayenne pepper keep squirrels out of gardens?
Sprinkling a ring of cayenne pepper around the perimeter of your garden will not repel squirrels like a ring of salt repels evil, my friends. Fortunately, sprinkling it on the plants being targeted by the gnashing teeth of doom can deter the fox squirrels from taking tomatoes, picking peas, swallowing spinach, and chewing cabbage. Squirrels previously laid waste to my tomatoes until I treated my plants with cayenne. It stopped the fiendish behavior, and the squirrels returned to eating other food sources.
Keep your feeders hot all year!
Using a touch of spice is great in the kitchen. I know it, you know it, your mom knows it. That is not a 'your mom' joke; I am being literal. Your mom hopefully uses spices in the kitchen if she cooks. I am the cook in my family, and I know how to sling the spice shaker. And as good as spices are in the kitchen, they can be even more effective at your bird feeder. Give it a try. BAM! (As that one chef says... I think)
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