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Can you outwit a squirrel?

By Sarah Wolfe
Associated Press
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/01/12/09/PkFlo.Em.138.jpeg|316
    - David Fleenor
    David and Linda Fleenor, of Gastonia, sent this picture of a bluebird house that was specially modifed by you-know-who. It was cozy hangout when the snow hit this winter.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/01/12/09/RyEpr.Em.138.jpeg|316
    - WILD BIRDS UNLIMITED
    This photo shows a squirrel attempting to eat bird seed on an Eliminator, a squirrel-proof bird feeder. It protects your bird seed from persistent squirrels by technology registering sensitivity set by the owner, that closes the seed ports based on weight of the intruder standing on the perch ring.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/01/12/09/Z6YXS.Em.138.jpeg|473
    - COURTESY OF KIM AND WALTER STARKE
    Kim and Walter Starke of Charlotte joke that someone neglected to inform squirrels that their green and red bird feeders were marketed as “ squirrel proof” and “squirrel resistant.“
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/01/12/09/jVDAv.Em.138.jpeg|237
    - AP
    Here is one way of keeping squirrels away from your bird food. Always use a tall pole, perhaps 6 to 8 feet (metal, wood, or plastic - it does not matter) and bury it a foot deep in ground. Always add a PVC pipe that must be at least 5 inches around. This is imperative, to keep their tiny sharp claws from digging in and wrapping around the skinny poles.

More Information

  • Don’t try these at home!

    • Dig a moat around your feeder. Fill it with piranha.

    • Trap squirrels and send them to Antarctica.

    • Encourage your neighbors – and what the heck, your local government – to use drones to monitor and, ahem, deal with squirrels.

    • Buy a squirrel costume. Parade around your yard wearing it. Squirrels can’t figure out what in the world is going on and it drives them away.



They’re vermin to some. Cunning adversaries to others. Squirrels have long been a source of fascination and frustration for gardeners and bird enthusiasts engaged in a nearly constant battle to keep them away from the nuts and seeds put out for birds.

Greased poles. Loud music. Motion-activated sprinklers.

Bill Adler Jr. has heard all the strategies. And tried many of them.

The 57-year-old humor writer has been collecting tips to keep squirrels from avian meals for three decades, and recently updated his 1988 book, “Outwitting Squirrels: 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed From Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels” (Chicago Review Press), for a third edition.

The most important thing to know? While technology has changed, squirrels still have little else to do all day but strategize. And they’re good at it.

“There’s no one technique that works for everyone,” Adler says. Try a few different strategies, and be willing to change.

Most of all, Adler says, don’t sweat it too much. “I have to admit, I care a little less (these days). I care in a different way,” he says of his squirrel strategy.

Squirrels still eat more from his bird feeders than the birds do, but “I don’t mind that I personally don’t always win.

“I enjoy outwitting them, I do. But these days I win the battles and not the war.”

Here are some tips (some serious, some not) from Adler and others to bring a little harmony to your backyard:

The natural

Resigned to the fact that squirrels are going to call his Washington, D.C., yard home, Adler puts out some unsalted mixed nuts along his steps. “If you feed them, they will tend to leave the bird feeder alone,” he says.

Squirrels also love corn, so if you don’t want them invading your feeder, keep your birdseed corn-free.

You also can try filling your feeder with safflower seeds, which are high in fat and protein.

“Many favorite backyard birds favor safflower seeds, but squirrels typically do not,” says John Schaust, chief naturalist for Wild Birds Unlimited.

The technical

These days, there are motion-activated outdoor cameras if you want to monitor your feeder, and even motion-activated sprinklers to douse offending squirrels.

“Squirrel-proof” bird feeders abound. The best, according to Adler and other experts, are those that sit on a 5-foot pole and are covered with a plastic dome or “baffle” that’s hard for squirrels to cling to.

If you want to get even more high-tech, there are weight-activated feeders that actually cover up the feeding ports when a squirrel latches on. “Squirrels are foiled, but not harmed in any way,” Schaust says.

While some particularly wily squirrels have been known to scratch up the pole and baffle enough to gain access, bird enthusiast Barbara Bergin of Austin, Texas, has a slippery solution: petroleum jelly.

She actually greases the pole her feeder hangs from with Vasoline every now and then, and says it works like a charm.

“As a bonus, it’s also fun to watch the squirrels slip off the hanger,” the 60-year-old orthopedic surgeon said.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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