(ARA) - For bird lovers, the sight of a bushy tail hanging off the side of a feeder means just one thing: war.
Sure, squirrels have to eat, too, and no one wants to harm the persistent critters. But that doesn't mean you have to put up with squirrels scarfing down the seed you put out for the birds, damaging your feeders and bumping up your blood pressure. It's possible to discourage squirrels - and even outsmart them - with the right seed mix and some nature-friendly squirrel-control tactics.
Plant the seed
Birds, like people, are selective - even picky - when it comes to food. Seed is the best option to attract the most birds to your feeder. Unfortunately, squirrels also love seed. And while birds will sort through mixed seed to find what they like - and ditch the undesirable filler, like red milo, on the ground below the feeder - squirrels are not so picky. They'll eat the cast-offs on the ground and then move on to the good stuff in the feeder, and devour that, too.
To entice birds, avoid brands that wash or coat seeds with chemicals and mineral oil. Look for brands manufactured by companies that focus on bird feed, like Cole's, rather than treat it as a sideline business. Some feed mixes are full of cheap filler seeds, crop leftovers and the lowest quality oil sunflower. Cole's uses only high quality seeds, and each blend is designed to attract specific groups of birds.
Taste aversion - serving seed that birds find delicious, but squirrels consider down right distasteful - is an effective way to keep squirrels out of bird feeders. Check out a squirrel-proof birdseed blend that uses hot spicy flavor to repel squirrels. Cole's offers "hot" products that are designed to appeal to birds while dissuading squirrels. Its Hot Meats blend infuses top-quality sunflower meats with a Habanero chili pepper and Safflower oil that birds find delectable, but squirrels simply detest. Or, you can opt to add Flaming Squirrel Seed Sauce to any Cole's blend. It's a safe, effective and human way to feed birds and thwart squirrels. You can learn more at www.coleswildbird.com.
Squirrel-proof your bird feeders
Another option is to try to make your feed less accessible to squirrels - although that can be hard to do since squirrels are smart problem-solvers. You may find the best results from a combination of methods, including:
* Locate feeders far from trees, wires, porches or other launching points to make it more difficult for squirrels to reach the feeder. Remember, squirrels can jump distances of 10 feet or longer. Mounting feeders on a smooth metal pole at least 6 feet high with no surrounding branches or bushes within 12 feet may also work.
* Place a wire cage around the feeder with openings just large enough to admit birds but too small for squirrels to fit through. This can also help keep larger birds, such as starlings or pigeons, from accessing the feeder.
* Try specially designed feeders that have doors which close when triggered by a squirrel's weight on the feeder. The doors keep squirrels from reaching the seed. And if you've had plastic feeders gnawed to destruction by squirrels, try switching to metal which they'll be less likely to chew through.
If you can't beat 'em ...
Sometimes you just can't win the war and the squirrels refuse to leave. Or maybe you have a soft spot for those fluffy-tailed felons. When you can't convince squirrels to vacate your yard, another option is to serve them something they'll find even more appealing than bird seed. If you can lure them away from your feed, squirrels can be an amusing addition to your backyard landscape.
Squirrels love whole, dried corn-on-the-cob and loose dried corn. Cole's offers Critter Munchies, a blend of whole yellow corn, striped sunflower, peanuts in the shell, black oil sunflower and raw peanuts. Serve on an open platform-style feeder. Or place an ear of dried corn on a stick. A stake or pinecone can be coated with peanut butter.
Set up your squirrel feeding station away from bird feeders and make it as easy as possible for the squirrels to access their feeder filled with temptations like nuts, corn and berries.
If you can make peace with the squirrels, these intelligent characters and their antics can be a welcome sight in your backyard.