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Hamptons Life

Nov 5, 2009 2:21 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

How to keep squirrels out of your birdfeeder

Nov 5, 2009 2:21 PM

There are many East End homeowners who invite small flocks of birds to peck at seeds and make nests in their front yards, but most do not want to see the unintended consequence of providing wildlife nourishment—more squirrels.

Squirrels, which are either the woodland or suburban varieties on the North and South forks, have endless appetites and no qualms about raiding a bird feeder, explained Bob DeLuca, the president of the Group for the East End.

“They’re very clever about stealing food and getting seeds,” Mr. DeLuca said, adding that he goes through one new bird feeder per year in his yard. “A lot of people don’t like them because they chew through cords to get to feeders and knock feeders down.”

But there are special types of bird feeders designed to deter squirrels from stealing food, Mr. DeLuca said. For example, bird feeders placed on poles may feature an inverted plastic cone that go around the bottom of the feeder, he explained. That way, squirrels trying to scurry up the pole will fumble as they reach the top of it.

Conversely, some bird feeders which hang from trees may also come with a plastic squirrel-proof dome placed on the roof, Mr. DeLuca said. When squirrels attempt to crawl down the rope tying the feeder to a tree branch, they’ll be met with the slippery dome, which causes them to fall to the ground.

Herrick Hardware in Southampton offers customers a wide array of squirrel-proof bird feeders, according to general manager Al Topping.

“Some have a lid that shuts down on the feeder,” he said, explaining that the heavier weight of the squirrel, as compared to a bird, will close the lid that covers the birdseed. “The squirrels will just hang onto a feeder all day long until its empty,” Mr. Topping said, explaining the benefits of purchasing the squirrel-proof feeders.

Though some squirrel-proof bird feeders cost around $50, Mr. Topping reported that the 14 varieties of bird feeders (including those that are not squirrel-proof) at Herrick range in price from $12.99 to $50.

Lynch’s Garden Center in Southampton also has a diverse selection of bird feeders and squirrel-proof bird feeders, explained employee Jessica Diesing. She cautioned, however, that no bird feeder is ever 100-percent squirrel-proof.

“We call them squirrel-resistant bird feeders,” she said, adding that birds are also in competition with other animals that eat seeds and nuts, such as deer.

Ms. Diesing said that even the feeders that feature the plastic dome on the roof are not impenetrable to the rodents.

“There are ways that keep them from jumping directly on the feeder, but they can make it swing,” Ms. Diesing said. “They’ll move or shake the feeders if they’re hungry enough,”

She also said that squirrels can access bird food, even with the feeders that feature the spring-loaded weights. “If the squirrel hangs on it long enough, the seed falls to the ground and then they can get it,” she said.

Ms. Diesing added that birds, thanks to their wings, are never at risk of being attacked by squirrels over available food. “The birds have a great safety net because they can fly away,” she said.

The bird feeders at Lynch’s range in price from $20 to $125, and some of them are squirrel-resistant, Ms. Diesing reported. She explained that the most expensive feeders hold more seed and are deemed squirrel-resistant. The smaller squirrel-resistant bird feeders start at about $40.

Mr. DeLuca said that there are some feeders that have holes only small enough for a bird’s beak. Squirrels, though, will tenaciously nibble through the plastic of the feeder, he said, adding that some homeowners, fed up with ravenous squirrels, purchase feeders specifically for the furry rodents.

“Some think that if they feed the squirrels, they’ll leave the bird feeder alone,” Mr. DeLuca said.

Squirrels typically forage for food very successfully on their own, Mr. DeLuca explained, consuming acorns, bird eggs and carrion. But, if homeowners want to provide more food for the animals, they can scatter dry corn and peanuts on their lawn.

Lynch’s also sells squirrel feeders, according to Ms. Diesing. She said that squirrels will eat dried corn on the cob, as well as other treats. Lynch’s offers several varieties of squirrel feeders, including block-shaped and stick-shaped ones that can be nailed to trees. However, she warns against feeding squirrels.

“Squirrels are really territorial, and once they know they can get food there, they will keep going back,” Ms. 
Diesing said.

And, she explained, there’s no guarantee that the squirrels will not dive into a nearby bird feeder once they have chomped down on the corn on the cob.

“Now they know that they can get food there, it’s their territory,” Ms. Diesing said.

Mr. DeLuca recommended against feeding squirrels, not because of their territorial issues but because they can become a household nuisance.

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