Brenda Ibey, Avant-Garden Shop www.avantgardenshop.com
Feeding birds - when done correctly - is a safe and wonderful pastime that has grown in popularity in recent years. When we feed birds, we do so to help them survive inclement weather, and get the benefit of enjoying their beauty. When you attract prey of any species to a food source, inevitably, you will draw predators as well.
When you know there’s a bird-eating predator around, such as cats or hawks, we advise not refilling your feeder for a few days. The seed attracts birds, which essentially creates a trap for them with the predator being so close. If you take a break from filling the feeder for a few days, the predator might move on to more productive areas, and you can return to feeding your garden birds.
A common concern here is that the birds might starve even a few days without the feeder being active. This would be very unlikely as there are multiple sources of food available in the wild, including native plants and other supplementary sources nearby that your garden birds will disperse to. Consider planting natives as part of your bird-friendly backyard!
The impact of squirrels on the birds isn’t as immediate: squirrels rarely eat adult birds. The effect is more delayed: feeding squirrels results in healthier squirrels who live longer, survive the winters, and produce more young, who have higher survival rates because of the abundant food. Squirrels are everywhere, so shutting down a feeder when they’re around would mean never enjoying a bird feeder.
Keeping squirrels away from feeders can be a constant effort. They eat a lot of seed, which makes maintaining your feeder more costly. They also dominate the feeder, scaring the birds we want to attract away. There’s another good reason to reduce squirrel and chipmunk access to your bird seed: they eat bird eggs and chicks!
The best approach is to ensure that your bird feeder(s) are squirrel-proof. This can be achieved through:
Feeder placement: Hang the feeder from something that squirrels can’t access (such as a clothesline with a few open-ended plastic bottles on it on either side of the feeder).
Baffles: Wide, conical baffles placed above and/or below the feeder can prevent squirrels from accessing the feeder. Squirrels can jump up to 5 feet high and launch themselves 10-12 feet (rarely up to 15 feet), so be sure to set the feeder pole up with enough room around it and use wide baffles to prevent climbers from making their way around the edge.
Use a squirrel-proof feeder: Some feeders have spring-loaded mechanisms that allow birds to feed but that are triggered by the weight of a squirrel and close off access to the feed. The squirrels soon learn that they can’t get food from the feeder and move on.