BirdWatching Column: Outfoxing Squirrels

Published on April 15, 2013 by BirdWatching

[PULL-QUOTE] ³Foxes, Great Horned Owls, and a variety of hawks have always kept the squirrel numbers in check without help from me, but this fall my squirrel population exploded.²


[HED] Outfoxing squirrels

[DECK] How a sudden influx of squirrels in my yard overwhelmed my normal laissez-faire attitude – and what I did about it

[488/479 WORDS] In the 31 years I¹ve lived in my old, established neighborhood in Duluth, Minnesota, I¹ve never tried to exclude squirrels from my bird feeders. Allowing them into my feeders adds to the cost of seed, but I like squirrels, and my laissez-faire approach has been simple and much more conducive to peace of mind than waging war.

That is, until this year. Foxes, Great Horned Owls, and a variety of hawks have always kept the squirrel numbers in check without help from me, but this fall my squirrel population exploded. One November day, I counted 18 eastern gray squirrels in my backyard, and I counted 20 during a December snowstorm.

Their concentrated activity was keeping birds away. The naughty rodents chewed up our Christmas lights and started gnawing our house trim. They were fighting among themselves, too. Several bore noticeable bite and scratch wounds, so the situation was harder on them than it was on us.

Something needed to be done, but what? Friends suggested that I start shooting the squirrels – some even suggested recipes – but even if I were willing (I¹m not), it¹s illegal to discharge even a BB gun in Duluth. Poison was out of the question, too. Another suggestion, which seemed a bit more reasonable but presented its own problems, was to trap and relocate some of the squirrels. I hoped I could find a way of getting them to disperse safely on their own.

Here¹s what I did: I stopped scattering sunflower and white millet for juncos and cardinals near my brush pile, and I closed down every feeder that squirrels could access. My husband made two simple baffles, shaped like large inverted paint cans, to block access from below. Because squirrels can drop down or leap across to our feeders from trees, the house, and powerlines, we also moved the feeders to the middle of the yard, the only spot that was safe from every direction.

For my chickadees, nuthatches, and occasional finches, I tried to keep one tiny acrylic feeder on the second-story window next to my desk, but one leaping squirrel knocked it out of the window. We cut the one limb of the tree that made jumping to the window easy. The next time the weather gets above freezing, I¹ll put that feeder back up.

Squirrels were dropping from the roof onto a platform feeder affixed to a different window in my upstairs home office, so I removed the bottom screening, leaving the wooden frame in place. If my two Blue Jays give me a long, hard stare, I balance a few peanuts along the frame for them. The jays usually fly off with them before a squirrel notices.

And voila! Within two days, the most squirrels I¹ve counted in my yard at a time has been six, and most of the time there are only one or two.

[BIO BOX] Laura Erickson writes and produces the radio segment and podcast ³For the Birds.² She is the author of Hawk Ridge: Minnesota¹s Birds of Prey, Twelve Owls, The Bird Watching Answer Book, 101 Ways to Help Birds, and other books. She was a licensed bird rehabilitator for many years. You can find more of her writing about backyard birds on our blog.