Backyard Birdfeeding 2: Baffling the Squirrels

As bird feeding season approaches (for those of you who the birds can’t convince to feed all year), so does outwit-the-squirrel season at the your feeders. The problem is that the squirrel has nothing better to do all day than to scheme and plot about how it’s not only going to get at the seed you’ve put out for the birds, but also how it’s going to destroy your feeder and make the seed more accessible next time while you have to go out and work for your living, shovel snow, and other such human activities.

I’ve gotten so mad I’ve stopped feeding the birds for a few days. Really stupid, but I get so tired of chasing the squirrel away and replacing feeders that they chew on.

After years of designing ever more elaborate (and ugly) squirrel baffles, I’ve come up with one that is inexpensive and easy to install and replace, and as attractive or as plain as you’d like it to be, plus I read about another that wears out soon enough but is a riot to watch.

Bowl Baffle

bird feeder with bowl cover and squirrel baffle

Tube feeder with bowl-style squirrel baffle.

The first is a bowl baffle that hangs over just about any feeder, made from a large plastic bowl easily obtainable for about $1.00, like the 8-quart plastic bowl pictured. The bowl should be wide enough to keep the squirrel from being able to hang over the edge and reach the feeder for feeding or destructive purposes. Even if the squirrel can hook its toes around the cord or chain that suspends your feeder the depth and circumference of your bowl generally keeps it from reaching around and under the edge of the bowl. The squirrel’s weight usually manages to tip the bowl far enough that the squirrel slides off before it can do much damage if it can reach the feeder. An added benefit is that the bowl also keeps the feeder covered from the weather.

Cut or drill a hole in the center of the bottom of the bowl; this can be reinforced by gluing washers around the hole, but it’s not necessary. If the bowl has a lip, as this one does, also punch some holes in the lip so that liquid and debris won’t collect in it. Slide the suspension cord or chain for your feeder through the center hole and hang the feeder. Slide the bowl as far down toward the feeder as you can get it—this won’t get in any bird’s way unless the feeder has openings near the top. They often perch on the lip of the bowl to wait their turn.

You can find bowls in all colors and perhaps coordinate with your house, or be creative and paint designs on your bowl with outdoor trim enamel to stand out in the winter landscape. You can also use stainless steel or other materials if you have the right tools. Just don’t get too attached to it if it’s plastic, because the squirrels will chew on it, if only in frustration—but better a $1.00 bowl than a $40.00 feeder with $10.00 of seed in it.
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Birds?! Attract them with homemade suet cakes

woodpecker and wren at feeder

Ms. Wren had better watch her step

My yard is a registered Backyard Wildlife Habitat, deemed so by the National Wildlife Federation. Among other requirements, I provide food and shelter for native wild bird species all year round because aside from being fun to watch, they are an important insect guard in my vegetable garden.

In winter, however, I am compelled to put feeders up everywhere I can hang one, and at least one seed feeder is visible from each window in the house as well as suet feeders, ear corn and water. Not only does it give the birds a safe place to eat, drink and be merry, it gives my cats something to do and it gives my eyes a break while I slave at the computer all day into the night.

Suet cakes, or something like them, are an important part of the diet for insect-eating wild birds because it provides them with appropriate protein. It also provides a medium for mixing in other goodies like nuts and dried fruit and flavoring it with peanut butter or fruit juice.

Yes, I like to spoil my avian visitors–and save a little money in the process, plus use materials that would otherwise be composted or discarded.

woodpecker and wren at suet cake

Bird Breakfast

When suet cakes go on sale at my local Agway, I stock up, but at other times I put together a dozen suet cakes for about 50 cents each. The goodies I add are fresh or dried apple peelings from pies I’ve made for the holidays, older somewhat tired oranges, other fruits that are past their prime, and the leftovers from making pies and jellies in the summer. I have several mulberry trees and collect crabapples from trees near one of my municipal gardens, and I make jelly with these, as well as baking with the crabapples. As each fruit comes into season–raspberries, blackberries, peaches, plums–I bake or jelly with it, or save the less-than-perfect ones to dry for later use. Birds LOVE these fruit treats in mid-winter. And when I find peanut butter on sale and stand there trying to decide if my birds would prefer smooth or crunchy, I know I’m really in deep.
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