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7 Tricks To Keep Squirrels Out of Bird Feeders + Best Squirrel-Proof Feeders

There’s nothing worse than putting out a fresh feeder full of birdseed and, moments later, looking up to see this guy staring back at you.

Large eastern gray squirrel hanging from bird feeder.
Seriously, dude?

What was supposed to be a feast for your favorite feathered friends ends up being an all-you-can-eat buffet for a “tree rat.” (My sweetie’s nickname for squirrels that get into his feeders.) Squirrels can be a real pain for backyard bird enthusiasts. They empty bird feeders, scare away the birds and can even damage your feeders, making them unusable.

We had one squirrel who liked my homemade suet so much that he stole the whole suet feeder. In short, squirrels can be a real pest.

There are ways of making your feeders less appealing to squirrels.

But as anyone who has been feeding birds long enough will tell you, there is no such thing as a squirrel-proof bird feeder. With enough determination, they will get to the seed eventually.

That’s why keeping squirrels in check requires several barriers to birdseed. By employing at least three of these tips, you’re much more likely to succeed in keeping squirrels out of your feeders. Use all the tips, and you’ll have a backyard anti-squirrel fortress.

1. Place Your Feeder Out in the Open

Bird feeders suspended from metal pole in the middle of a yard.
Place feeders out in the open, away from trees and other structures.

Squirrels are pretty skittish and are less likely to approach a feeder in an open, well-lit area where predators can easily see them. Placing a feeder in the middle of the yard is a great way to make squirrels think twice before heading over for a snack.

2. Hang the Bird Feeder From a Pole

Squirrels have difficulty climbing smooth, vertical surfaces such as metal poles. Placing your bird feeder atop a pole is a great way to deter them. There are a few caveats here. The pole needs to be larger in diameter than a squirrel could easily wrap its arms around.

Squirrel hanging onto pole with his back feet and raiding a bird feeder.
As you can see, the size of the pole is important.

A squirrel can climb small skinny poles; not easily, but it can be done. A 4” diameter pole is a good place to start. The larger, the better.

It also helps to use metal rather than wood or PVC pipe. Both wood and plastic can be scratched and provide enough resistance for the squirrel to climb. Metal stays slick.

And the final caveat involves an aerial attack; we’ll get to that in the next tip.

3. Place Your Feeder Out of Jumping Reach

Eastern gray squirrel midjump.

Squirrels are incredible jumpers; they were built for it. Even if you place your bird feeder on a pole, if it’s within jumping distance of trees or buildings, squirrels will get to it. Placing feeders out of jumping reach is probably one of the most important tips for keeping your bird feeder squirrel-free. They can jump about four feet vertically and ten feet horizontally.

4. Add a Baffle to Your Feeding Setup

Gray squirrel stuck under baffle on pole below bird feeders.
Rats, baffled again!

A baffle is a dome or cone-shaped device (like this one) that can be placed above or below a feeder to prevent squirrels from reaching it. If you’ve got a serious squirrel problem, I suggest you go with a double-whammy approach and place a baffle above and below your feeders.

Using baffles is especially important for feeders within jumping distance of trees or buildings or feeders placed at the edge of woods for more shy birds.

Speaking of shy birds – learn how to attract the Northern Cardinal to your feeder with this important tip.

5. Don’t Overfill Your Feeders

Squirrel eating black sunflower seed from a bird feeder.
“All of this, for me? You shouldn’t have.”

Only put out a little seed in your feeders at a time. Squirrels are looking for a constant supply of food. If they learn that the pickins are slim at your place, they will search for a better supply elsewhere.

Not overfilling your feeder is also important for the health and safety of your birds. Spoiled and moldy birdseed can make birds sick and spread disease. Unless you have enough feathered visitors that you’re refilling your feeders daily, there’s no need to put out a feeder full of seed.

6. Pepper Spray Your Setup

Birds can’t taste capsaicin; they lack the taste receptors to feel its heat. But if you’ve got a persistent squirrel, you’ll make it think twice before coming back to your feeders if you add a little heat.

Put capsaicin-based pepper spray on the bird feeder poles, which will make the poles too hot and spicy for squirrels to climb. Be very careful doing this. Wear goggles, gloves and a mask. Pay close attention to which way the wind is blowing. Do not touch the poles when you’re refilling the feeders.

A squirrel stealing suet.
Suet laced with cayenne pepper will help deter squirrels.

Use suet with cayenne pepper in it – you can use my recipe and add a couple of teaspoons of cayenne pepper to it. Once they get a bite or two, they won’t want anymore.

7. The Best Squirrel Resistant Feeders

As I said in the beginning, there is no such thing as a squirrel-proof bird feeder. Given enough time, these determined creatures will find a way. However, some good designs out there will certainly make it tough for squirrels to do. Along with these other tips, it may be enough to discourage them entirely.

The best squirrel-resistant designs have weighted perches. The squirrel’s weight on the perch closes the ports to the seed.

This is probably the most popular weight-activated perch feeder, but you’ll notice all the decoration gives squirrels a lot to hang on to. That being said, the ports are firmly closed under the squirrel’s weight.

Squirrel hanging from a squirrel-resistant bird feeder.
As you can see, all the ports have closed due to the squirrels weight.

This weight-activated feeder is great because it’s a slick tube with a small baffle on top.

This feeder takes a different approach. It’s also weight-activated, but rather than closing the ports, the squirrel’s weight activates a motor that spins the perches…and the squirrel.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em

You know the old saying. And for many backyard birding enthusiasts, squirrels are just as welcome as the birds.

Plenty of people give up on trying to outsmart these brilliant animals and instead make them welcome. Once you make the mental shift from pest to pal, you’ll find squirrels are often as entertaining as your feathered friends, sometimes more so.

My kids and I thoroughly enjoy watching YouTuber Mark Rober set up the wildest mazes in his backyard to make the squirrels who visit work for their treats. He even created a Backyard Squirrelympics. (It’s worth watching for the hilarious squirrel bobblehead commentators.)

Put a squirrel feeder far away from your bird feeder. As long as you keep it filled, this will usually be enough to discourage them from stealing from your birds.

Of course, once you get the squirrels sorted out, you may find other visitors at your feeder.

Two deer grazing beneath bird feeders.
“What? The squirrels said it was okay.”

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Tracey Besemer

Hey there, my name is Tracey. I’m the editor-in-chief here at Rural Sprout.

Many of our readers already know me from our popular Sunday newsletters. (You are signed up for our newsletters, right?) Each Sunday, I send a friendly missive from my neck of the woods in Pennsylvania. It’s a bit like sitting on the front porch with a friend, discussing our gardens over a cup of tea.

Originally from upstate NY, I’m now an honorary Pennsylvanian, having lived here for the past 18 years.

I grew up spending weekends on my dad’s off-the-grid homestead, where I spent much of my childhood roaming the woods and getting my hands dirty.

I learned how to do things most little kids haven’t done in over a century.

Whether it was pressing apples in the fall for homemade cider, trudging through the early spring snows of upstate NY to tap trees for maple syrup, or canning everything that grew in the garden in the summer - there were always new adventures with each season.

As an adult, I continue to draw on the skills I learned as a kid. I love my Wi-Fi and knowing pizza is only a phone call away. And I’m okay with never revisiting the adventure that is using an outhouse in the middle of January.

These days, I tend to be almost a homesteader.

I take an eclectic approach to homesteading, utilizing modern convenience where I want and choosing the rustic ways of my childhood as they suit me.

I’m a firm believer in self-sufficiency, no matter where you live, and the power and pride that comes from doing something for yourself.

I’ve always had a garden, even when the only space available was the roof of my apartment building. I’ve been knitting since age seven, and I spin and dye my own wool as well. If you can ferment it, it’s probably in my pantry or on my kitchen counter. And I can’t go more than a few days without a trip into the woods looking for mushrooms, edible plants, or the sound of the wind in the trees.

You can follow my personal (crazy) homesteading adventures on Almost a Homesteader and Instagram as @aahomesteader.

Peace, love, and dirt under your nails,