Outfoxing the squirrels

By Lynette L. Walther | Dec 14, 2018
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Simple, cheap and 100-percent effective — all it takes is a length of chimney pipe to squirrel-proof the bird feeder.

By all accounts, this past summer was an epic one for squirrel populations. As we head into winter, that bumper crop of squirrels is still out there. And in the coming months, they will be on the constant lookout for food. In some cases, shelter too. Leave it to squirrels to empty the bird feeders, dig up plants and flowering bulbs, plant unwanted things in our gardens and lawns, decimate vegetable and fruit crops in the summer months, leave holes in the turf and sometimes even chew their way into our homes and take up residence! Yeah, sorry, but that’s not Santa rustling around in the attic.

The gift that really does keep on giving

Just imagine the gift of all outdoors — of learning about our surroundings and the gardens and plants and animals that inhabit it; experiencing beautiful gardens; and even giving back to our community in one sweet deal. Sounds too good to be true, but in fact it is all that and more when you give someone the gift of a membership to Merryspring Nature Center. To find out how you can give this spectacular gift or join yourself, visit the website: merryspring.org or call the office at 236.2239.

Love them or hate them, we are stuck with squirrels, both the gray and red varieties. Squirrels are members of the family Sciuridae, a family that includes small or medium-size rodents. Squirrels have teeth that never stop growing, so they have to chew almost constantly to keep them in check. That supernatural chewing enables them to gnaw through just about anything — including the woodwork on the outside of your house, and then sometimes the wiring in your attic, once they settle in for the season.

A neighbor recently reported that squirrels chewed and damaged communication cables outside his home. They are infamous for planting all manner of seeds — acorns and other things — to store for later. But they are, after all, squirrels, and these scatterbrained rodents frequently forget where those nuts and seeds were stored — hence those dozens of little holes dug in your yard or flower beds, even containers, in their characteristically squirrelly searches. Thank squirrels for all those little oak trees that sprout in your garden in the spring.

Sometimes I feel as if I have spent my entire life battling squirrels, so it is no coincidence that I consider them one of the masters at gardening mayhem. While predators often move in where there are imbalances in wild animal populations, we cannot always count on them to arrive in time or at all. However, there are a number of things that we can do to thwart these rascals.

• Bird feeders: Make your bird feeder squirrel-proof simply and cheaply with a length of chimney pipe. Install the pipe under a tray-type or other feeder mounted on a pole. The squirrels will still climb the pole, but are unable to climb the chimney pipe and will find themselves at a dead end. We’ve used this device for several years now, and no squirrel has been able to gain access to the feeder.

Just be certain to position the pole far enough away from trees or any structure, as they will climb and then try to jump on top. Ours started out a tad too close to the house, and those rascals climbed onto the roof and jumped from there. Took them several tries as they banzai-ed off the roof, but eventually they were able to judge the trajectory and we had to move the feeder.

• Try a foul-tasting deterrent:

1 1/2 quarts water.

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 chopped onions

1 chopped jalapeno pepper

Combine in a saucepan and boil for 30 minutes. Allow to cool and then strain. Use a spray bottle to spray areas to repel squirrels, avoiding plant foliage, as it may burn it. Apply every few days.

• For a dry repellent:

Combine equal amounts of cayenne pepper, hot paprika and crushed red peppers

Sprinkle in ornamental beds or mix with bird seed (will not harm birds). Safflower seeds are another option that squirrels don’t like, but birds do.

• Be diligent about cleaning up fallen nuts, acorns and berries. Make the process faster and easier with a handy nut gatherer. Keep trash can lids securely closed as well. If you have a large enough piece of property, a distant feeding station for squirrels could be an option. The location would help to keep them away from planted beds and bird feeders.

• Employ predators, both real and imagined. Animal urine can be used to create the illusion of a predator nearby. Be advised that if you attract hawks or owls with perches or other enticements, you will also be inviting them to feast on the birds you are attracting with feeders. Instead go for predator decoys or a large fake snake.

• In summer, for fruit- or berry-producing shrubs, use row covers, netting or chicken wire enclosures. To prevent squirrels from digging up plants or bulbs, bury chicken wire as a deterrentm or enclose bulbs in hardware cloth wire “cages.”

• Squirrels are often repelled by plants they find offensive, aromatic herbs like rosemary, lavender, mints or nasturtiums, marigolds or mustard. Sprigs of rosemary inserted around prized plants or in pots can help to prevent squirrels from digging them up.

• As a last resort, consider catching and releasing, but because squirrels will travel over long distances in search of food, be prepared to relocate any trapped animals at least 10 or more miles away. Note that this practice is prohibited in some areas, and depending on where trapped squirrels are released, they could negatively impact residents or other animal populations in release areas. Encouraging squirrels to relocate themselves by eliminating their food sources in your landscape is always the best option.

Just remember, getting into and cleaning out your bird feeder is the main job of any squirrel, and they are darned good at their work. Maybe with these tips you will be able to outfox your own squirrel nemesis. Good luck!

The last resort is to set a trap, to catch and release pests elsewhere. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
From presentations to plant sales and more — just a sample of what’s in store for the recipient of the gift of a year’s membership to Merryspring Nature Center. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
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