Keeping Squirrels at bay
Bruce Frana, a Winding Pathways visitor, saw one of our blogs on our “squirrel proof” feeder and how we discourage squirrels from gobbling up sunflower seeds we put out for birds. He crafted a similar but much more attractive version that’s in his yard. Our contraption is a box framed with 2X2 lumber with sides of 2” x 2” wire mesh. A piece of plywood forms the roof, and we attached it to a wooden table with a pair of hinges. The hinges let us lift the cage to sprinkle sunflower seeds inside.
It works. Sort of. Cardinals, chickadees, and nuthatches easily pass through the wire mesh to feed. Some squirrels and wild turkeys, which we like but get frustrated when they gobble up all the seed, can’t get through the mesh. Our fox squirrels are too chunky to squeeze through, but smaller gray squirrels manage to get in and gobble seeds. We could keep the grays out if we could find 1 ¾ x 1 ¾ mesh wire on the market. As far as we know it doesn’t exist, but if it did it would let birds in but exclude even the skinniest gray squirrel.
Bruce reports that his fox squirrels can’t enter either but the grays do. Here is a photo of his squirrel foiling feeder:
Do It Yourself “Squirrel Proof” Feeder!
Here is what he shared: “I have had a platform feeder for several years but, like your blog mentioned, turkeys, and even some clever squirrels, were able to get on top of it. I built (a feeder) based on the plan/picture you shared on your blog. I adapted the plan to the platform feeder I had and made some of my own modifications.
“As you can see from the pictures, I attached the structure onto the original platform by using hinges, just as your plan had done. I also put a pitched roof and handle to be able to easily lift the one end to place seed on the platform. The entire system is attached to a 2″ PVC pipe that slides over a steel post. I have had one ingenious small grey squirrel figure out how to get into the feeder and solved that problem, at least for now, by making the wire openings a bit smaller on two sides.” It works…sort of!”
Readers can go online and find “Do It Yourself” (DYI) “squirrel proof” feeder instructions. Good luck and let us know how it goes! Thanks, Bruce Frana.
Adaptation to feeder
Back View of feeder
A guest blog by Susan Fehsinger, New Hampshire
“I’ve spent most of my life in southern New Hampshire. Growing up, we never heard of bears being anywhere near our area, but their population has been growing rapidly. Now, we hear of them regularly. Our first live rural sighting was about 15 years ago. Since then, we either have seen them or evidence of them at least once a year.
“We live in the country on 16 acres and the nearest house is about 300 feet away across the road. There is plenty of bear habitat and they are becoming very common. Last year I was taking a walk along a class 6 road (a road that is not maintained any longer but is often used) when a black bear strolled up from the river and across the road about 30 yards ahead. I froze. S/he turned and looked at me for a long 10 or 15 seconds before continuing into the woods. Did I have my phone? Yes. Did I think to snap a photo? Nope.
“One morning this spring about 6:45, when the sky was fully light, I began to hear noises and thought our cat was running around upstairs. After a while, though, I looked out the window which opens onto our screen porch. Two bears were tearing into the stone retaining wall at its foundation. They were pulling out the seeds that the chipmunks had stored there. Both were fully grown and one of them was the largest I have ever seen in this area. The strangest part of this experience was that they didn’t spook at all. I called my husband and we both stood at the glass door taking pictures and talking.
“The population of our small town is growing, yet we are seeing more wildlife that used to be rare. I saw my first bobcat a year or so ago, also. It’s great to know that wildlife is doing well and large predators are around. We humans just need to be aware of potential danger — for us in case of a confrontation, and for them, if our behavior causes them to habituate to people. Fish and Game does not want to have to kill an animal that’s only crime is looking for food that we provide them.
“Beginning in early spring we are told to bring in bird feeders (and in my case stop using the screen porch as an extra refrigerator!) It’s definitely good advice because bears are excellent at finding any and all available food. Usually, the ones we see in early spring are females with cubs, and they can be very dangerous if a human gets between “mom” and her little ones. The fact that “my” bears were digging into a stonewall to get at seeds stored by chipmunks underlies how good they are at their job — feeding themselves and their cubs. We can learn to outsmart them, but they’ve been perfecting their food-finding skills for a long time and their senses are much better than ours. We have to become aware and vigilant so we can enjoy the fact that they’re here among us — just not too close.”
Check out these links below about bears, habitat and behaviors
. Many of these sites refer to “wild” places like parks and the North Woods. And, remember that the advice on respecting bears, keeping your distance
, and storing food all to avoid bear encounters is similar and are great tips for suburban and urban dwellers.
Bear Standing Up
Bear moving off to the bird feeder.
Sunflower seed, cracked corn and Milo mix.
Cold weather in the northern hemisphere and the Holiday Season everywhere are upon us and many gifts for bird lovers fill store shelves. But, shopping for seeds to fill the backyard feeder can be confusing and even frustrating. Many types of seed and mixes are for sale. Some blends are designed to attract specific species, like cardinals, while others target a diversity of birds. Cheap blends appeal mostly to house sparrows and blackbirds, species most people prefer to not attract.
Winding Pathways suggests keeping seed buying simple. We have a favorite seed, one we avoid, and one that we use in a special way. We rarely buy cheap mixes that song birds really do not like and that are sold in big box, chain and grocery stores at inflated prices. Farm stores often sell better mixes at lower cost. Neither of these types of stores have knowledgeable staff to help new comers to winter bird feeding. Specialty bird feeding stores offer the highest quality seed and staff up-to-date in what song birds feed on. And, yes, you pay a bit more – and we find it worth the cost. Less wasted seed and higher satisfaction for homeowners and the birds!
THE BEST SEED FOR WILD BIRDS
Sunflower delivers the highest quality feed for wintering birds.
Of the many outstanding seeds for feeding birds we like black oil sunflower the best. It’s relatively inexpensive and devoured by chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, cardinals, and many other species. We don’t mind that birds drop hulls to the ground but for people who dislike this mess, hulled sunflower seed can be purchased and is excellent. It is kernels of larger culinary sunflower seeds, sometimes called gray stripe seed. Hulls have been removed and seed is much more expensive but loved by birds. Most sunflower seeds are produced on farms in the Dakotas and Minnesota.
THE WORST SEED
Songbirds do not like the cheap mix.
The worst seed is Milo. It is a common ingredient in cheap mixes and sometimes is sold as “bird seed.” Milo is grown on arid land in the Great Plains and is mainly used for livestock feed. The young plant looks like corn but unlike corn its seeds form at the top of the plant. Few birds like the astringent seeds, although they will sometimes eat it if nothing else is available and they are hungry. Less desirable species, like house sparrows and blackbirds will eat it. Milo seeds are round, slightly reddish, and about twice the size of somewhat similar millet. Try to avoid it.
IN BETWEEN SEEDS
An inexpensive alternative to the higher quality feed.
An excellent inexpensive seed that will be eaten by many birds is cracked corn. Desirable birds prefer sunflower seeds, but we often sprinkle some cracked corn on the ground to keep sparrows and wild turkeys happy and, hopefully, away from our sunflower seed. Another seed of “in between” value is millet. These are tiny round white or yellowish seeds often found in inexpensive mixes. Mourning doves, juncos and other ground feeders enjoy eating it. So do house sparrows.
Learning to identify seeds helps a customer purchase the best seed at the lowest cost. Reading labels helps as most manufacturers list the contents of their seed packages. Happy Holidays to you and the birds you love to feed!
Most people love watching wildlife in their yards, and millions set out bird feeders and improve habitat to encourage colorful and fascinating animals. But there’s a limit.
See a mouse scurry across the floor or find their droppings on the kitchen counter and most families quickly set snap traps to kill the pests. Although there are ways to reduce or prevent most wildlife problems that usually should be tried first, sometimes it’s necessary to kill an animal.
Take woodchucks, for example. These large mammals are capable climbers and powerful diggers. They tunnel under any fence they can’t climb over. A woodchuck’s sweet tooth is the family garden and they readily clear cut carrots, peas, beans, corn, chard and most other crops.
A few July’s ago our garden looked superb. We were harvesting crops like beans, squash, beets and chard. One afternoon we went out to pick a few dinner vegetables and were astonished to find the beans nearly eaten to the ground, the chard gone and the beet tops nibbled to nubbins. It wasn’t the raid of a woodchuck. A whole family of chucks had chosen to squeeze under the fence and convert our garden into their lunch.
We do what we can to prevent or reduce damage. The garden has a sturdy fence around it that keeps deer and rabbits out, but with their superior climbing and digging ability we found that keeping chucks out is nearly impossible.
Our garden is a vital part of our family’s food supply so raiding woodchucks gets the same treatment as a mouse in the kitchen. Fortunately, our home is situated where it is legal and safe to shoot an occasional garden raider. Millions of homeowners live on acreages where they can legally dispatch pests. But it must be done safely. Having a low power firearm or airgun handy can be a garden savior.
We use both a .22 caliber rifle and a .22 caliber airgun both to dispatch an occasional pest and for target practice. Again, shooting a pest is a last resort that we use only when prevention fails, but normally we have to do in a few woodchucks every year.
HOW FIREARMS AND AIRGUNS WORK
Airguns and firearms have similarities and differences. Each relies on air pressure to push a projectile (bullet or pellet) out the barrel and onward to its target. Each can be a safe, effective, and humane tool for dispatching pests but must be used with great care and moderate skill.
When someone pulls a firearm’s trigger a pin strikes the primer of a loaded shell. The impact causes the primer to create a spark that ignites gunpowder. Rapidly burning powder creates tremendous air pressure that pushes the bullet out the barrel.
Pull the trigger on an airgun and high pressure air, already inside, pushes the projectile forward without an explosion of gunpowder. The pressure is generated before shooting by either pumping the barrel or a lever or by inserting a cartridge of pressurized carbon dioxide.
DEVELOPING SHOOTING SKILL
Appropriate airguns and .22 rifles are capable of quickly and humanely dispatching small pests but each can cause severe injury or even death of a person. They must be used with skill and care. Winding Pathways owners Rich and Marion Patterson have extensive experience with firearms. She grew up in rural New Hampshire in a family that hunted for food and also occasionally needed to dispatch a pest raiding their huge garden. He learned shooting during a stint in the army. Many homeowners lack shooting skills and safety knowledge. A good way to gain both is to enroll in a hunter safety course offered in most areas. To locate a class check Where to Hunt. Instructors help novices learn safety and accurate shooting. Many shooting ranges also offer training and are excellent and safe places to practice, sometimes with a coach to help out. To locate a range near your home access Where To Shoot.
Accurate shooting is essential for humane and safe pest control. A precise shot to the vitals will instantly kill a woodchuck while a poor shot will only wound the animal and cause suffering. Develop skill and practice!
At Winding Pathways we often spot our garden-raiding woodchuck close to our home and use our .22 rimfire rifle to dispatch it. Ours is a bolt action that functions with a diversity of ammunition types. The most powerful are called “long rifle” shells. We avoid them because they are overly powerful and noisy. Instead we use either “shorts” or, more frequently, “CB” shells. CB shells have only a small amount of powder and make little noise. They have plenty of power to dispatch a woodchuck hit in the head at 25 feet. Shorts have more power than CB’s but less than long rifles. They extend the effective range but are noisier.
Airguns, sometimes called BB guns, vary greatly in quality and power. Old fashioned BB guns fired a round piece of steel called a “BB”. Generally they lack both power and accuracy for serious pest control, but modern airguns are a different matter. Many are of .177 caliber but some are of .22 caliber, which fire a larger heavier pellet that is more lethal than the smaller one. A common system of charging an airgun is to compress air by cocking the barrel. Some airguns will dispatch a pest as humanely as a firearm, but be careful.
Please note: There are pellet guns and there are pellet guns. Some are powerful enough to humanely dispatch a woodchuck and other pests while others lack sufficient power. Our Benjamin .22 titan shoots a 14.3 grain pellet at 750 feet per second, packing enough energy to kill a woodchuck at 25 yards if hit in a lethal area. Another of our pellet guns is much lower powered and is used strictly for target practice.
Before using an airgun or rifle on your property:
- Make sure it’s legal and safe.
- Become familiar with the airgun or firearm. Read the owner’s manual.
- Always practice safety and treat your airgun or .22 as if it’s loaded.
- Develop skill. Never shoot at a pest until you have mastered accuracy and can kill it humanely. Practice often.
- Store it safely. We keep ours in a large locked box, where it stays until used. Store ammunition away from the weapon. Always keep a weapon away from children.
We enjoy target shooting and have made a simple range in our backyard. Every once in a while we take the airgun out and enjoy punching holes in paper targets.
For general information on shooting, safety and where to find a place to shoot go to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
The charming but pesky chipmunk is an amazing forager and storer of food.
Wildlife sometime create yard mischief. Raccoons, possums, and skunks tip over trash cans in the middle of the night. Chipmunks tunnel under walls, moles heap mounds of dirt. And woodchucks and cottontails raid the garden.
Damage, or perceived damage, often infuriates homeowners. Woodchucks have the uncanny ability to harvest lettuce the day before it is to be picked for an evening salad, and raccoons raid the sweet corn patch the moment ears are ripe. Moles hump up hills of dirt that lawnmowers hit, and skunks mine into the sod for grubs. What’s a homeowner to do?
WHY WILDLIFE CAUSE PROBLEMS
There’s no mystery to it. Wild animals are attracted to yards because they are comfortable places to live or find food. All living creatures need food, shelter and water to live. Yards frequently offer these basic needs all in proximity. Create a beautiful diverse yard and wildlife will enjoy it as much as people. In most cases people love seeing most species of wildlife in their yards, but often agree that they are best enjoyed in moderation.
THREE STEPS TO CONTROL GARDEN WILDLIFE DAMAGE
There are three ways to effectively overcome, or at least minimize, wildlife damage.
Homeowners differ in their strategy on how they weigh the benefits versus problems of wildlife in the yard.
Strategy One: Tolerate damage and enjoy wildlife.
It’s a state of mind that may require attitude adjustment. How important is a perfect lawn or head of cabbage, versus watching a cottontail mom peacefully nurse her babies on the edge of the law? How valuable is the beauty and inspiration gained from seeing chipmunks pack their cheeks with seeds and scamper across the yard versus the tunnels they make in retaining walls? For many people having beautiful and interesting wildlife out the window far outweighs damage they may cause.
We had a friend who grew a tiny garden with a few lettuce plants, a short row of string beans, and one hill of summer squash. When a cottontail devoured them she was incensed and declared war on bunnies. She bought traps but never managed to catch them. She built a fence but the lettuce thieves found their way under it. Her stress level rose as plants disappeared.
We suggested she might rely on simple arithmetic to solve her problem.
“Instead of spending about a hundred bucks on fencing and traps, wouldn’t it be simpler and cheaper to just buy lettuce, squash, and beans at the farmer’s market”, we asked her. She agreed. It took some mental adjustment, but now she buys locally grown vegetables and enjoys watching the cottontails that she once hated.
SOMETIMES IT’S BEST TO JUST IGNORE MINOR DAMAGE AND ENJOY WILDLIFE.
Strategy two. Preventing damage in the first place.
The saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” holds true for wildlife damage. In most cases homeowners can both enjoy wildlife and prevent or greatly reduce damage critters might do. Some simple ways to anticipate and reduce conflict include:
Fencing: Craft fences sturdy enough to keep rabbits and woodchucks out of the garden. Cottontails, for example can jump a long ways horizontally but not high vertically. An inexpensive 18 “ tall temporary fence of chicken wire will keep them out of the garden. Woodchucks are more challenging, as they are expert diggers and climbers. A garden fence needs to extend below the ground to keep them out and needs to be at least three or four feet tall. Watch for more fencing specifics in future editions of Winding Pathways website.
Securing: Store trash cans inside the garage with the door closed to keep raccoons from tipping it over. Better yet, compost food scraps and don’t put anything in the can that will interest wildlife. Composting turns waste into a wonderful resource that improves the soil. Don’t let the trash man cart it away. Some people who prefer not to add meat scraps to the compost bin, feed them to a small flock of chickens or simply put them on the edge of the yard in the evening for the raccoons to devour. No more tipping over the trash can.
PREVENTION IS A KEY
Strategy three: Killing the offending animal.
Often people resort first to killing an animal. However killing a few woodchucks, raccoons, moles, or chipmunks will not solve damage problems. These animals are in the yard because they find perfect conditions there to live. Remove a few and others will move in. Keep killing and you’ve created a wildlife death trap.
Sometimes it is necessary to kill an animal. Upcoming issues of Winding Pathways will feature tips on how to eliminate problem animals.