MOUNTAIN COMMUNITIES — Countless backyards are battlegrounds between die-hard homeowners and squirrels fighting over bird feed. Squirrels need not be an inevitable element of bird feeding; even though keeping squirrels out of bird feeders is an age-old problem, there are ways to thwart these thieves.
One common tactic is stocking feeders with seed squirrels dislike, such as safflower, nyjer, white proso millet and seed infused with capsaicin, a compound derived from hot peppers that makes mammals’ tongues smart.
Some people find squirrels adorable, fascinating to watch and have nothing against them, even allowing them to share seed with birds. The real problem begins when squirrels take their share and then some.
To combat this, consider adding a baffle to your bird feeder on a pole about 5 feet high so squirrels don’t jump over it. Bird feeders on poles can be set in open spaces where there’s no trees or structures squirrels can jump from onto feeders. Try a “squirrel-proof” feeder that employs cages, or spring-loaded doors, keeping squirrels at bay. You can then offer food specific to squirrels’ taste preferences away from bird feeders.
Because squirrels are territorial, they’re less likely to go to other locations once they’re accustomed to eating in a designated place. Establishing a feeding space just for squirrels can satisfy their appetites and keep them out of bird feeders.
You can use an open feeder or scatter feed on the ground for easy access. Another way to help squirrels thrive is to provide access to fresh, clean water.
Consider these facts
* Squirrels can find food buried beneath 1 foot of snow.
* Squirrels’ front teeth never stop growing.
* Squirrels run zigzag patterns to escape predators.
* Squirrels “fake out” other squirrels and pretend to bury nuts to throw off potential thieves from their hiding places.
* When falling, squirrels use their tails both for balance and as parachutes. Plus, they can jump up to 20 feet and run 20 miles per hour.
* Squirrels can see behind them, but they’re blind at birth.
* When given a mixture of nuts, squirrels sort them by type before burying each variety in a different area.
* Squirrels can rotate their hind feet 180 degrees when descending trees and poles.
* Squirrels are one of the most important animals for helping spread oak trees. They store acorns in the ground but only recover about 70% of them, allowing forgotten acorns to grow into healthy trees.
As for the birds: In cold weather, it’s important to provide high-quality choices that offer the most fat, nutrients and energy. Look for black oil sunflower, which is rich in oil, attracting birds and providing energy.
Birds also love suet, the solid fat rendered from beef, venison or vegetables, which provides concentrated energy, helping them make it through freezing weather.
Some suet cakes are formulated to attract the largest variety and number of birds as well as specific bird species. Birds are greatly attracted to the taste of hot and spicy suet cakes, and some even prefer them over non-spicy suet cakes.
By following squirrel proofing tips and offering food birds and squirrels prefer in separate locations, you’ll see for yourself birds and squirrels can live harmoniously in your backyard while you enjoy watching both species’ entertaining antics.