To Feed or Not To Feed Squirrels?
As many of you have already guessed, I have squirrels in my back yard and have since I started feeding birds in 2003. I’ve written before about their antics and some of the challenges with them. I’ve said before that it’s not something you should do without doing some research first. If you want to feed squirrels you do need to understand what you’re getting into potentially.
With this being winter in the US, I thought it would be a good time to talk about this again. Winter is the time they are scavenging for food and a place to have their young. I just felt it would be timely advice.
Plus, this week I watched a Brome Bird News segment where their resident ornithologist, Dr. Bird (his real name) advised against feeding squirrels. His main issue was that they are destructive toward birding habitat. I don’t think he was keen on seeing their numbers increase either.
I wanted to counter with my advice for those who are considering feeding squirrels or just have them on your property. I’ll lay out the major areas of concern and how I believe you can avoid problems in those areas.
- Invasion of Bird Nesting Spaces
- Competition for Bird Food
- Destruction of Property
Then, I’ll conclude with my experiences and why I support feeding them.
Invasion of Bird Nesting Spaces
I hear a lot about how squirrels will get into bird houses and cause all kinds of mayhem. From breaking eggs to killing young to destroying the house, I’ve heard all the horror stories. Here is how I’ve dealt with this threat.
As soon as I figured out I had squirrels in my back yard, I started consulting with my local bird store for help. Their immediate reply: baffle your bird houses and do not place them anywhere near a tree. By anywhere near I mean away or below too. A squirrel is able to fall 100 feet onto ground and walk away. I’ve personally seem youngsters jump out of trees on top of my feeders so I mean NOWHERE near a tree.
The baffle prevents them from being able to climb on top of the house and fish around inside. If you do these two things alone, you won’t have any problems with squirrels bothering your nesting birds if they are cavity dwellers. If not, you’ve got to realize feeding squirrels WILL endanger birds that nest in low branches of trees, for instance. Most of the non-cavity nesting birds in my back yard make their nests elsewhere.
Competition for Bird Food
I think the main problem I see here all the time is people underestimating squirrels. Just because you have food at the top of a shiny pole don’t think they can’t get to it! Like the nest box issue, you need to invest in a baffle and not place feeders where they can be jumped onto. Same above and away rule applies.
Because my property borders a wooded common area, I invested a little more in a raccoon baffle (which is longer) and it has paid off many times. If you know you have raccoons and want to continue feeding birds, it’s worth the extra investment.
You should also make sure any feeders you have that are not baffled are squirrel proof feeders like Brome Bird Care sells. They are high quality and their customer service and guarantee are next to none. You can get feeders that are hopper or tube feeders that have mechanisms in them close off food for any squirrel that gets on them.
I’ll just add that this is another area where bird food manufacturers will tell you just to switch what your feeding. While it’s true squirrels don’t care for a food like safflower much, do you really want them crawling all over your feeders to find that out? I know I don’t-LOL!
Destruction of Property
Here is probably the hottest of the issues with feeding squirrels that I know of. Being rodents, they do have a destructive streak in them. Plants, and yard fixtures are among their folly. However, the hot button issue with homeowners is them getting into your house or attic.This is potentially the most expensive threat of any I know of. Having them chew their way into your attic, have babies, soil and tear up your attic and any contents could cost you thousands. I have personal experience that might have some changing their minds about feeding squirrels.
Notice I said “could” in the last paragraph. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are my tips for keeping their destructive and invasive tendencies at bay.
Once again, I’ve got to lead by saying Do NOT Underestimate Them, EVER!
If you want to feed squirrels and enjoy them as I do, you’ll make sure to:
- Cut back any trees or bushes that give them easy access to your gutters and roof.
- Have your gutters cleaned and inspected by a competent service. Angie’s List or HomeAdvisor (same company now) are great places to start looking. You want to make sure they are able to check fascia and soffit boards for any sign of damage. Repair as necessary. The main place I’ve had trouble with them is where the roof hangs over the gutter.
- If you are not willing to have your gutters, roof and structures checked at least annually, I would NOT FEED SQUIRRELS in your back yard.
- Once again, do not underestimate them, ever! If you or your tech sees a problem, fix it! NOW! Otherwise, they WILL find a way in.
So, has this article got you running for the hills or do you believe you can safely feed squirrels? I honestly believe it is a very pleasurable thing to do if you know the rules. I’ve outlined the major ones above but let me share a few more tidbits here.
- Don’t believe you can “make a pact” with your squirrels by giving them their own food and feeders. They don’t understand those rules and will find your feeders and clean them out!
- Don’t kill them! Besides my having a soft spot for them in my heart, it’s just not a good idea. Besides the threat of poison, traps and firearms on your other back yard guests, it’s not smart ecology. When some are killed, others will move in! Guaranteed!
- Don’t give them food they love. Give them food that’s good enough. I feed a wildlife mixture that’s heavy in corn that they eat just fine. Why do I say this? If you feed food they love, they will come from miles around! The word travels fast-LOL! I know from experience what it’s like to wake up to thirteen squirrels in my back yard! Any of those squirrel logs are a BIG no-no because they have suet bases and squirrels will kill to get them. I’ve watched one of those squirrel logs be completely destroyed in a few hours.
- Put up a squirrel box for their food and by all means, you have to get a squngee to hang off a tree limb. The entertainment value from one of those is just huge!
Talk To Me
Tell me about your experiences, good and bad with squirrels. I’m always interested in hearing new approaches. Leave me a comment below and we’ll talk about it.
Also, did you enjoy this article? If so, share it on your favorite social media platform using the buttons below.
Here’s to feeding squirrels successfully on YOUR terms!
There is also a small book called “Enjoying Squirrels More (Or Less!)” by the people at Bird Watcher’s Digest. It’s a quick and fun read that may help you if you’re on the fence.
Tim Stare says
Hey Jeff…My problem is keeping the birds away from what I have out for squirrels! How do I feed squirrels without allowing large birds to invade (Blue Jays, Crows etc) and get to the squirrels food first? Is there a bird-proof squirrel feeder? I know people are usually looking for the opposite.
I had to laugh when you suggested most people were looking for the opposite-LOL!
Two things that I use in my back yard are a squngee with a corn cob on it and a squirrel box. True, some birds will try to use the squngee but the squirrels will learn to use the box. You just have to stock it with clean wildlife mix (Walmart) and give them a couple weeks. Soon, they’ll be fighting over it! Here’s one like the one I have. Absolutely get a metal box because they’ll chew right through the wooden ones. Ask me how I know-HA!
I recommend only wildlife mixture and not pure peanuts or sunflower seeds. Unless you want EVERY squirrel in the county in your back yard that is.
Let me know if you have any other questions. Good luck!
KAYE TUCKER says
Hi Jeff, I really enjoyed your article. Being under quarantine has brought on an interest in the many birds in my back yard. I picked up a bag of seed and put some in a tray and set out on the deck. No interest for about 2 weeks but man oh man it amazes me…freaked me out one morning though woke up to a hawk looking in the bowl, lol. The squirrels are really pesky and just takes over but I really want to feed them as well and will try some of your suggestions.
Thank you for stopping by. I’m glad you found something useful from my site.
Everybody starts somewhere. Over the more than 17 years I’ve been feeding birds in my back yard I’ve found a way to keep balance between feeding the birds I want and taking care of the squirrels too.
One of the biggest keys I believe I mentioned in the article is to NEVER underestimate them-LOL! Every time I’ve heard people trying to outfox them it usually fails. I’m sure you’ve seen the YouTube videos of squirrels climbing out like 30 feet on a wire to get a corn cob?
I make sure to feed them but I also make sure they simply can’t get to the feeders. Pole and baffle systems are ideal for this.
There are many things about this quarantine that may be bad. However, getting humans to simply stop, look and listen is a good thing. Be proud of yourself for taking the time to get to know your creatures more.
Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with. That’s why I’m here.
Jhoe Paulson says
Nice… But look, I have found two nice baby squirrels and I want to care them! Please it it possible?
Can they be jeep in a Cage for them?
The best thing you can do for them is to contact a wildlife rehabilitation service in your area and ask them what you should do. Keep in mind that they may NOT be orphaned and you do NOT want to move them unless the they advise this to take them to them. They absolutely do NOT want to be caged animals!
Please let me know if you have any questions.
I started feeding the squirrels peanuts this year because we already had quite a few squirrels and I wanted to try to start a garden. I read advice on feeding them to keep them out of your garden. I have a box that I put about a cup of in-shell peanuts everyday… and you’re right, the word got out and the squirrels have multiplied. AND all the applies are gone from the apple tree, there are hundreds of tiny squirrel holes in my yard, and they do the weird thing where they’ll lop off the ends of all the trees and fill my yard with them in just a few hours. I swear they even throw things at me when I’m in the yard. They haven’t eaten my tomatoes yet, but there are scratches on my spaghetti squash. I’ve read if I stop feeding them now that it will just get worse and they’ll eat all those things I fed them to protect in the first place. But I was wondering after the garden was done, during the fall, if I stop feeding them will some of them go away and forget about this awesome place where you get all the food over the winter, or will their kids forever return to this spot and I’m going to have all these squirrels for life? They are fun to watch though, and so smart – one of them even stole my dog’s favorite ball and ran away with it over the fence. We eventually got it back – but it was a very sad 2 weeks for the puppy. When we got outside with them, I’ll hear the lid of the food box slam shut when my back is turned. They watch and wait for me to not look so they can sneak in and grab a peanut. If they didn’t come in droves and make the yard look like the surface of the moon – I wouldn’t mind so much.
The best advice I can give people about squirrels is to NEVER underestimate them. They WILL figure out what they need to know to get whatever they want from your yard. Period.
I would not feed them peanuts. I would get some of the wildlife mix I mention in the article right away and quit feeding peanuts immediately. This should help thin them out without starving them.
The biggest complications you have right now are: 1. you have too many squirrels feeding in your back yard and 2. you have a garden. With as many squirrels as you say you have there IS going to be destruction! Even if they don’t eat anything in your garden they can chew, scratch or otherwise disturb things making them inedible.
As I’ve told anybody who will listen to me, there is no arrangement we have with squirrels. We can’t distract them from our feeders by giving them their own stuff to eat. They will simply eat anything they can get to.
Here’s my recommendation: try cutting back to the wildlife mix for a day or so and see if the squirrels go right after your garden. If they do, I would consider going back to peanuts until you’ve harvested everything. THE, feed only wildlife mix even through the winter. You MUST reduce the squirrels in your back yard before something bad happens. Getting into your crawl space or attic are real possibilities unless you know for sure there’s not even a small opening ANYWHERE.
I stopped feeding squirrels peanuts, suet logs and anything but wildlife mix many, many years ago. It only took me one time to see the population in my back yard go from three or four to thirteen and fourteen within a week for me to stop. Right now, I have some youngsters and adults numbering about six total. All I have out for them is a metal box with the mix in it, a cob feeder (dried corn cobs available where the mix is available at Walmart) and a squngee feeder that also hold a piece of dried corn cob for my entertainment watching them bounce on it.
Finally, if your numbers are as high as you say, I would seriously consider stopping feeding them completely after the garden is harvested. Then when winter returns, only feed the wildlife mix.
I hope this helps. Please let me know if there’s anything I can help you with or if I wasn’t clear about anything.
Wishing you the best of luck from somebody who’s already been through this.
I sincerely appreciate your article, but I believe that I am having issues with “reassurance” due to what appears to have become an “insane” attachment to my neighborhood squirrels. My question is, what is the best time of year (if there is such a thing) to stop feeding squirrels that would cause the least detriment to their ability to find food sources elsewhere? I live in Brooklyn, NY and have at least 14 squirrels visit my windowsills, several times a day, to enjoy the in-shell pecans, hazelnuts and walnuts that I continuously provide. I’ve gotten numerous complaints from neighbors and had planned to stop the feeding the squirrels this upcoming Spring. My neighbors are avid gardeners and hate the squirrels digging up their plants. Will my squirrels find it difficult to scavenge this time of year if I decrease food gradually, until only providing birdseed come Spring? “Help”.
First time Brooklyn commenter! That I know of anyway. Welcome!
I understand your neighbors’ concerns. I actively feed squirrels myself but nowhere near as well as you do. I’ve found the more they like what you’re offering, the more of them you’ll see. In nearly direct proportion too. I feed a wildlife mix in a box for them and two places with corn cobs. I have all my feeder poles and birdhouse poles baffled so they can’t decide they want something I’m not providing freely.
Know this. They are the most intelligent animals you will find. If you stopped feeding TODAY, they will not starve. They would find other food sources. The only problem I see is they may start by going through your neighbors’ planters because they’ve probably buried a TON of stuff there-LOL! Potting soil is so much easier to bury things in and they know it!
There’s a very good chance if you switched to something like a wildlife mix (Walmart) the numbers would greatly diminish because it’s NOT their favorite. You might consider trying this if you’re game. See what happens.
However, if your neighbors have a zero tolerance for them you should probably just stop feeding them and see how long it takes for them to move on to greener (nuttier) pastures.
Hope this is helpful and so glad you found the site! Do let me know if you have any other questions and let me know how it goes, will you?
Jeff, you’ve made my day! I feel so much better about this matter (the squirrels, as well as the birds are amazing and beautiful creatures). Please keep writing your articles, they certainly help us nature lovers to better understand the world around us :).
Glad to see your name with your comment! I didn’t know if I should call you Bonster or Evans-LOL!
You’ve returned the favor because it makes MY day to know that I’ve helped you. Thank you so much!
I will keep writing as long as great people like you keep reading.
Let me know how it goes, will you?
It isn’t the Squirrel’s that kill the Baby Birds and crack the eggs in the Nests. it’s the Blue jays!. I have witnessed it year after year. If you make sure your nesting boxes are deep and keep them cleaned out, the Blue Jays can’t reach down that far.
Thank you for stopping by and adding your thoughts to this discussion! Hope all is well in your part of the earth.
I totally agree that Bluejays are quite capable of killing baby birds and cracking eggs. However, in my 18 years of feeding and providing nest boxes for birds I have always had my feeder boxes baffled so squirrels have never been an issue. I agree that having deep nest boxes and keeping them cleaned out will go a long way to discouraging any dangerous bird from killing the brood at any stage of life.
I also know that birds like house wrens and house sparrows can wreak havoc on ANY bird that it sees as a threat. And that “threat” could include simply nesting anywhere near their nest.
Like you, I keep a good eye on what’s going on in my back yard. You may have solved a mystery for me though. Last year, for the first time, I had a nest full of chickadees nearly decimated by something. Since I never see Bluejays landing on my boxes I assumed it was a rogue house sparrow. Others have told me it was probably a snake. The fact that one of the babies was thrown out of the nest almost confirmed for me it was probably a sparrow.
Did your Bluejays just toss the babies out? Or did they take them and eat them? The egg cracking is also very suspicious because the house sparrows just want to kill and have no interest in the corpses or eggs.
Let me know a little more about what’s going on in your neck of the woods, could you?
Hi Jeff! Thanx for your shared squirrel wisdom!
I have been feeding squirrels PEANUTS (!) this winter FOR the 1st time. Also noting their agility and intelligence. Amazing animals!
So, now I have 5? frequenting the peanut dish, which is right outside my front door, and very close to my main interest: my flower gardens.
It’s April & I feel ok @ stopping the feeding – especially the peanuts! – but I’m worried about what damage may ensue. Can they cause damage at the front door?
What say you?
Thanks for stopping by and telling us about your squirrel gang-LOL!
This is the PERFECT time to stop feeding them! I can guarantee if you continue they WILL dig up parts of your garden. Why? Because worked soil is so much easier to bury and dig up things than unworked soil. It’s really that simple.
I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised that when you stop feeding them, they WILL go away. Sure, they’ll stop in at the regular time for a while but they will go find other sources of food. I’ve not seen them do any damage to a door before.
The biggest risk with squirrels is what they’ll do while they’re able to continue feeding (gutters, feeders, etc.) and NOT after you remove it. I’ve had as many as 14 in my back yard that dwindled to like five within two days of reducing food so you can imagine what removing food will do.
And make sure and pat yourself on the back for helping these little ones out, ok? And make sure before you start feeding them again next year that your gutters and such are in good shape and won’t allow them to get in your attic.
Hope this is helpful. Let me know if I can help in any way.
Caroline Thompson says
I raised a baby squirrel corania,he was around four and a half weeks when my husband Stuart and me found him By his self by our pond! It was love for Stu and me at first sight, when he died we opened a squirrel feeding place under the boardwalk at the hard rock in ac! I feed over 200 squirrel’s a week ,I need to find some warm houses
A truly inspiring story of compassion and action paying off! Thanks for sharing!
Just so I’m clear, are you feeding these squirrels under the boardwalk at Atlantic City? I wanted to make sure we had our “ac” correct here-LOL!
Sometimes, it feels like I’m feeding 200 squirrels but I’m happy to provide for the ones who grace me with their presence.
Way to go!