Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bird Feeder Bandits

Years ago I proudly hung my boys' Cub Scout-project bird feeders in the Bradford pear tree in our front yard. The feeders attracted many feathered creatures over the years, but when a windstorm knocked the tree down we didn't replace it. I enjoy watching the birds in my yard, but all our remaining trees are too far away from the house to get a good view of the action; I convinced myself that my bird feeding days were over.

At Christmas I was excited to get a new bird feeder, along with a seed tray that attaches to the bottom and a hanger that clamps to the deck rail right outside the kitchen window. I'm having a great time watching the birds at the feeder (and the cats appreciate it too). However, I am NOT enjoying the squirrels that also appeared!

The furry-tailed rodents consume huge amounts of seed. It didn't help that we made it extremely easy for them. All they have to do is scamper across the deck railing and sit in the tray to gorge themselves. At first they'd run away when we banged on the window, but they soon realized there wasn't any negative consequence to the noise and started ignoring it. Now we have to go into the family room and open the door to the deck to get their attention. Sometimes that's enough to scare them away, but often they just run halfway down the deck stairs and wait there until we go back in.

Last week the screw that attaches the tray to the feeder came loose and got lost. Although no tray meant no mourning doves at the feeder (which was sad) it also meant more work for the squirrels (which was a good thing). However, it didn't take long for the wily critters to figure out alternate ways to nosh. This morning I saw a squirrel hanging upside down plastered against the feeder!

I went to our local bird store this afternoon to get a new screw to reattach the tray, and asked if they had any advice about getting rid of squirrels. The clerk told me they sold a capsaicin powder to add to birdseed that's often effective. Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers that gives them their "hot" taste. Bird taste buds are insensitive to red pepper, but mammals like squirrels have the receptors to taste the heat. I wondered if the Sams-sized container of red pepper flakes in my pantry could also work, so I decided to try that first before I bought the specialty product. Today I experimented with peppering up bird food to keep the squirrels away.

The store clerk told me capsaicin wasn't guaranteed to work; some squirrels will do ANYTHING to get an easy meal. However, it didn't seem like the project would take a lot of time or energy, so I decided to try. I poured some bird food into a large baking pan, then added a tablespoon of ground red pepper and mixed it up. The pepper wasn't sticking well to the seed, so I added a few drops of hot sauce to moisten the mixture. The pepper now adhered to the seed, and the whole mixture smelled hot to me. I used the new screw to reattach the seed tray to the bottom of the feeder and carefully poured in the seed, then hung the whole thing up.

So far I've seen all the normal birds at the feeder, but no squirrels. I think it would be fun to see what happens when the tree rat takes a bite of pepper-laced seed. Would it break out in copious sweat, or recoil in horror and rush off to drink gallons of milk? The squirrels seem pretty smart. I hope that a few nasty-tasting bites of food will cause them to look elsewhere for their meals.


  1. capsaicin powder --that's good information. We have not put up a bird feeder because we do not have a house yet. But when we do.....

  2. We used capsaicin on our animal problem in our last house - we started with the speciality stuff, but then eventually started using cayenne pepper [in bulk]. We weren't trying to ward off squirrels, but trying to keep raccoons and cats [who love to crap in gardens] out of the garden. The idea is that the cats get it on their feet, clean themselves, and then have a bad time of it. Didn't seem to work though so we bought waterguns...

    My mum gets chipmunks @ one of her feeders and they are so adorable!

  3. It may be an issue soon, as we have a new feeder sitting in the closet waiting to be installed. Thanks for the info.