How to stop squirrels going for your bird feeder – 5 tricks that will help birds thrive in your backyard

Protect nuts and seeds for your feathered friends with these simple tips

squirrel eating from a bird feeder
(Image credit: Getty Images / Raymond Gehman)

Love them or loathe them, you're unlikely to want squirrels raiding your bird feeder for nuts and seeds earmarked for your feathered friends.

As cute as the clever creatures are, it is birds that need the extra food. According to Birdlife's 2022 State of the Birds report, the USA's birds are in crisis, with over 50% of species declining. So putting out nuts, seeds and fatballs for birds is more than a pleasant past-time. 

Thankfully, there are a number of deterrents and ways to outwit squirrels from snaffling your bird food. These methods may not be 100% fool-proof, but the more of them you employ in your backyard, the more chance, your backyard will be home to wrens, robins, finches and more with their beautiful birdsong and avian acrobatics.

1. Choose a caged feeder

birds eating from a caged bird feeder

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Many of the bird feeders on the market are adapted to squirrel prevention. A caged feeder has a strong wire around it, with gaps that are large enough for birds to enter to feed, but too small (for most) squirrels to squeeze through. This squirrel-proof bird feeder from Amazon, is a good example.

'The cage prevents the squirrels damaging the seed feeder inside,' says Carolyn Warful, birding expert at Perky Pet. 'Squirrels may try and chew on the bars to get to the feed, so make sure the cage is made of a heavy-duty metal.' 

2. Buy a baffle or weight-activated feeder

bird feeder with a baffle

(Image credit: Getty Images / Ali Majdfar)

Buy a what you may ask? A baffle is generally a cone or dome shaped piece of plastic (or other material) that is attached to a bird feeder. Some bird feeders come with squirrel baffles already attached, or you can buy them separately, like this baffle from Amazon

'Squirrel baffles that prevent squirrels from climbing up a post to a feeder can be very effective, as long as the feeder is far enough away from any possible launching points from which the squirrels could jump to the feeder,' says Emma Greig, leader of Project FeederWatch at Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 

'Other types of baffles, such as weight-activated bird feeders that close when something heavy (like a squirrel) lands on them, can also be very effective.'

'One of the most effective types is the traditional dome-shaped squirrel baffle,' says Carolyn from Perky-Pet. 'When squirrels land on the baffle, it will tip and they will immediately fall off. The baffle also prevents squirrels from trying to ruin the bird feeder by chewing on it to try and get to the seed.'

3. Fill your feeder with safflower seed

red cardinal on bird feeder

(Image credit: Getty Images / Umut Tolga Pehlivan)

When it comes to food, most animals have their likes and dislikes. Of course, if they are hungry, most wild animals will eat anything but given the choice, squirrels will not generally go for safflower seed or nyger seed. 

'There isn’t any totally squirrel proof seed, but squirrels tend to be less interested in safflower seeds (like this feed from Amazon) than other types of seeds,' says Emma Greig. 'However, safflower is a great seed for attracting cardinals.'

4. Hang the feeder from a line or pole

bird feeder on a pole

(Image credit: Getty Images / ablokhin)

Hang bird feeders at least 4 feet high from the ground and as far from any fences or launch points as you can (away from both squirrels, cats and other predators). Bear in mind, that squirrels can jump around seven feet too. 

A pole or shepherd's hook (try this from Amazon) can be a better option than a tree, where squirrels can climb and run along the branches. Obviously, you need to make sure you can reach the feeder in order to be able to fill it and clean it easily. 

'Hanging bird feeders from places far from trees (such as strung from a line) and covering the line with tubes that deter the squirrels from running along them can be effective,' says Emma Greig. 'People use tubing or used plastic drinks bottles, as they'll spin when a squirrel jumps onto the line.

'The truth is that squirrels can be very persistent and very clever, so sometimes you have to just learn to live with them.'

5. Sprinkle chilli on bird food

This may sound odd, but experts suggest sprinkling some chilli powder or cayenne pepper on nuts, seeds and fat balls left out for birds. It's one of the same tricks for keeping squirrels out of garden pots. 

'Squirrels may be deterred by mixing strong chilli powder with bird food as most squirrels don’t like the taste of hot chilli or cayenne pepper,' says a spokesperson from the RSPB. 'However, birds are not bothered by it.'

Jacky Parker is a London-based freelance journalist and content creator, specialising in interiors, travel and food. From buying guides and real home case studies to shopping and news pages, she produces a wide range of features for national magazines and SEO content for websites

A long-time contributor to Livingetc, as a member of the team, she regularly reports on the latest trends, speaking to experts and discovering the latest tips. Jacky has also written  for other publications such as Homes and Gardens, Ideal Home, Red, Grand Designs, Sunday Times Style and AD, Country Homes and Interiors and ELLE Decoration.