The bird feeders’ war with the squirrels has
raged for many years. Bird feeders all over the world know what a
formidable opponent squirrels can be. Many mechanical devices have
been marketed to deter squirrels. None are 100% effective, most are
obtrusive and some are down right dangerous. A man in Minneapolis,
Minnesota was arrested for unloading his shotgun on the squirrels in
his backyard. Fortunately, the charges were ultimately dropped, but
it shows the frustration that squirrels can cause.
Understanding squirrel behavior alone may not rid your
backyard birdfeeder of these voracious critters, but it may increase
your appreciation for their abilities. Squirrels belong to the order
Rodentia, which contains over 1650 species. Rodentia is the largest
group of living mammals and members of Rodentia can be found
throughout the world. Squirrels inhabit every continent except
Australia and Antarctica, evidence that squirrels are part of a very
Squirrels cause millions of dollars of
damage every year. Rodents are born to gnaw. Their incisors never
stop growing, so they must chew constantly to keep them worn down.
Squirrels chew through phone and electrical lines, ruin gardens,
kill trees, damage feeders beyond recognition, and often eat large
quantities of seed put out for the birds. The stripping of wire
insulation by squirrels that find their way inside homes has been
known to start house fires. Squirrels are very aggressive critters
and numerous squirrel bites are reported each year. Squirrels have
been known to carry rabies. Infection from bites is the biggest
concern, as several varieties of bacteria (including those that
cause tetanus and salmonella) are found in the squirrel’s mouth. As
admirable and entertaining as they may be, it cannot be forgotten
that squirrels are wild animals, and have little concern for human
No single attribute makes squirrels as
resourceful as they are. It is a combination of physical and
behavioral adaptations that gives them an ability to obtain and
consume just about anything they desire. The average gray squirrel
will usually eat between 30 and 60 plant species throughout the
year. The will eat nuts, seeds, fruit, flowers, mushrooms, and buds.
Hickory Nut is generally regarded as its favorite meal, and
unfortunately for birds and those that feed them, black oil
sunflower seed is also on its list of favorites. When food is
scarce, squirrels have even been known to eat insects, bird eggs,
and carrion (decaying animals). This is extremely unusual behavior
for an animal generally considered an herbivore (plant eating
animal). This flexibility of diet increases survivability, allowing
them to alter eating routines especially when a particular food
source becomes unavailable or less palatable (e.g. Squirrel Free
With so many food sources to choose from,
one wonders why squirrels are so frequently sighted at bird feeders.
This can be attributed to several things. First and foremost, bird
feeders offer a tidy supply of a variety of feeds in relatively
large quantities. Additionally, squirrels spend a surprisingly large
amount of time looking for food to satisfy their body’s energy
requirements. The amount of time a squirrel spends foraging changes
with the seasons and availability of food, but always entails a
significant part of a squirrel’s day. During the peak of winter,
squirrels spend nearly 75% of their time foraging. In August, time
spent foraging drops to about 30%.
Gray squirrels can eat
all day long, but are most frequently seen feeding early in the
morning and mid afternoon. They can eat up to three ounces of food
per sitting, and on average eat about a pound and a half of food per
week. Considering the weight of the average squirrel (approximately
a pound to a pound and a half), this is a considerably large
quantity of food. As a comparison, a 150 pound human would have to
eat 150 pounds weekly to match the appetite of a squirrel. This
would amount to about 600 fast food style hamburgers in the same
stretch of time. That’s 85 burgers a day. With all that eating, it’s
no surprise that squirrels rarely seem to leave the bird feeder.
Another reason squirrels are regularly spotted is
population. People frequently assume that the one or two squirrels
they see at their feeder are just that, one or two squirrels.
Squirrels usually nest in groups of about 6 or 7. Depending on
availability of food, there may be several nests in the area.
Furthermore, squirrels have a range of up to seven acres, so some of
the squirrels seen at feeders may actually be from a distance away.
Along with a seemingly insatiable appetite, squirrels are
extremely cunning and physically equipped to negotiate the most
challenging of obstacles. Anyone who has ever tried to outwit a
squirrel with a mechanical device knows how difficult this can be.
Squirrels can climb polished steel poles. They can leap more than 6
feet. Their tails give them phenomenal balance, allowing them to
effortlessly cross long lengths of thin wire. They can dig and, yes,
they can even swim. Building a moat to protect your feeder from
squirrels is not the answer.
Squirrel Free products offer a
non-toxic, all natural, organic solution to keeping your wild bird
feed exclusively for the birds.
Treat™ | Squirrel
Facts | Cornell
Feeding Study | Aversive
Conditioning | Safety