The ugly truth about squirrel proof bird feeders

Squirrels can eat from squirrel proof bird feeders

Here’s the ugly truth about squirrel proof bird feeders: there aren’t any.

(There are some that come very close and you can read about them here: 5 Best Squirrel Proof Bird Feeders)

Why do I say “there aren’t any”?

When manufacturers say a bird feeder is “squirrel proof” or “squirrel resistant”, they’re defining ‘squirrel’ as “adult gray squirrel” only, which happens to be the largest type of squirrel in North America.

There are at least five types of squirrel in North America (gray, red, black, fox and flying), not to mention chipmunks, and all of them will go after bird seed. Most of them are much smaller than the adult gray squirrel.

That means that anything smaller than a full-grown gray squirrel is going to get into those expensive “squirrel proof bird feeders.”

squirrel meme - The bird feeder is empty

How big is an adult gray squirrel? Pretty big, as it turns out.

According to Wild Adirondacks, gray squirrels are larger than both red squirrels and chipmunks. Their bodies can be up to 12 inches (25 cm) long (plus another eight to ten inches of tail) and weigh up to a pound and a half (600 gm or so).

Moral of this little story?

DON’T buy squirrel proof bird feeders if…

…you’re having problems with red or black squirrels, fox squirrels, flying squirrels, chipmunks, rats, mice, raccoons, possums, bully birds or bears. They won’t work and you’ll just end up frustrated!  

To take just one example from the above list, the smaller red squirrels live almost everywhere in the northern USA and Canada (purple areas on this map), which means you’re going to you’ll need other squirrel busting measures to keep them out of your bird feeders.

Also, a really determined, perhaps starving, squirrel of any type can get into pretty much anything. Some of them will even chew through metal.

Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do, which I’ll get to in a moment. 

Map of range of North American red squirrel
Map of range of North American red squirrel

A really determined, perhaps starving, squirrel of any type can get into pretty much anything. Some of them will even chew through metal.

Why are squirrels so hard to beat?

  • They are gifted with enough intelligence and adaptability to observe and adapt to your efforts to defeat them.
  • They are incredible acrobats: gray squirrels and fox squirrels can jump a gap 8 to 10 feet (3 meters or so) wide.
  • They can jump 4 to 5 feet straight up and jump 15 feet or so downward.
  • Their paws and claws are ideally suited to hang on to almost any landing place, and grey squirrels can turn their ankles 180 degrees backwards to hang on to things. Have a look at the squirrel in the top photo to see what I mean.
  • Squirrels can easily rest most of their weight on their hind legs while reaching more than12 inches away with their front paws, making it easy to defeat any weight triggered bird feeders they can reach.
  • A squirrel’s front teeth never stop growing, so they can chew on things basically forever.

So how do you keep squirrels off your bird feeders?

In this 10 minute video, Bubba from the Gainesville, Florida Wild Birds Unlimited store details every step you need to take to defeat squirrels.

To recap, here's what it takes to bust squirrels completely:

  • A good pole system with a strong steel pole .
  • A steel squirrel baffle that squirrels can’t jump onto the top of. Flat-topped baffles must be mounted so the top is about five feet off the ground. A better choice would be a baffle with a rounded top, or a cone-shaped baffle.  Note: if raccoons are a problem, you’ll need a larger raccoon baffle to keep them out.
  • Ten feet (3 meters) of horizontal clearance around the widest part of your feeder system, i.e. the edge of  the bird feeder that hangs farthest away from the center pole. If the feeder hangs 2 feet away from the center, you’ll need a 12-foot (3.5 m) circle around the feeder pole that’s completely clear of anything a squirrel could climb up and jump from.
  • For hanging feeders, you’ll need a dome baffle attached to the top of the feeder top keep the squirrels off.
  • It’s important to hang feeders at least 18 inches (45 cm) away from any ledge, branch, pipe or other item that can support a squirrel’s weight, and at least 8 to 10 feet (about 3 m) away from anything they can jump from to the feeder.
  • If you want to hang a bird feeder in a spot where there just isn’t enough clearance, you’ll need either use food that squirrels won’t eat or a "squirrel proof" bird feeder.

See also: Top 5 Squirrel Proof Bird Feeders

You might like: Is a smart bird feeder with camera worth the money?

Use seeds squirrel won't eat

There are three common feeder seeds you can use that squirrels don’t usually eat.

Nyjer or thistle seed (actually it comes from a daisy-like herb native to Ethiopia) is a small black seed that goldfinches, juncos, chickadees and pine siskins love – but squirrels don’t.

Squirrels are also known to turn their noses up at white proso millet.

Safflower seed is also not on a squirrel’s menu of choice.

 However, a starving animal will eat anything it can get. If your squirrels are desperate enough to eat these seeds, they will overcome their distaste – and teach their young to eat it too.

 Use nature’s squirrel buster: hot peppers.

Did you ever wonder what makes you different from a bird–other than wings? Lots of things really, including vision, but there’s one difference that’s really useful when it comes to squirrel busting.

All mammals including squirrels, raccoons, deer, bears and us humans have a recently evolved pain receptor called TRPV1 that birds don’t have at all.

TRPV1 is why eating hot peppers is a painful experience for squirrels (and humans), but a total non-event for birds.

Result: bird food treated with hot peppers will be gobbled up by all your birds but completely ignored by squirrels. There are quite a few options available – check them out here.


There’s no such thing as a squirrel proof bird feeder that defeats squirrels 100% of the time.  Worse, many squirrel proof bird feeders on the market have been known to actually injure or even kill smaller birds. (Here are 5 that are effective AND safe for birds: Top 5 Squirrel Proof Bird Feeders)

The real secret to squirrel busting is in where you place your feeders and what else is nearby. Master these tactics and all your feeders will be squirrel proof bird feeders!

Next Steps

  1. Share this article. If you watched the video, you know that many folks don't know much about squirrel-proofing.
  2. Join the conversation - tell us what you've learned about beating squirrels in the comments section!

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About the author

Joy Thurlow

Hi, I'm Joy Thurlow. Watching birds in the back yard is a favorite hobby of mine. My mission with Joy of Birdwatching is to share (accurate) information about birds, birding and useful products to help everyone connect with nature and enjoy the birds while we still have them. Thanks for reading!

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