Turkeys and squirrels would make short work of seed, leaving none for the small birds.
Nearly everyone who feeds wild birds sees squirrels gobbling up expensive seed. Elaborate and expensive feeders help birds eat while excluding squirrels. We use a different method.
Plenty of squirrels make Winding Pathways home. So do wild turkeys. We enjoy watching them and don’t mind giving them some seed. Unfortunately, they come in droves and wolf down all the seeds. Each morning we sprinkle some seeds on the lawn for both turkeys and squirrels but we needed to keep them away from a feeder favored by cardinals, chickadees titmice, and other birds.
This homemade excluder seems to stop squirrels and turkeys while allowing in songbirds.
We built a simple but effective squirrel and turkey excluder out of scrap lumber. It’s merely a rectangular box two feet wide and four feet long. The frame is made of 2×2 lumber, the top is of treated ½ inch plywood, and the sides are of 2×2 inch mesh heavy wire. There is no bottom.
We placed a feeder on a homemade picnic table and put the turkey and squirrel excluder over it. One end of the excluder is hinged to the table, making it easy to lift the other side to fill the feeder.
So far squirrels and turkeys have not been able to infiltrate the excluder and stay outside enjoying the cracked corn we’ve spread specially for them.
We love watching frolicking squirrels in our yard and every year we buy bags of corn for them to snack on. We draw the line when they climb up to feeders and gobble expensive seeds meant for chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers.
Bird feeder companies all tout their “squirrel proof” feeders and a homeowner can spend a bundle on different feeders just to slow the flow of seed from feeder to squirrels’ mouths. Some preventions work better than others but a reliable company is Droll Yankee.
But, being partly of Yankee stock, we took the economical route. To thwart the hungry mammals we mounted our feeders on steel pipes and even ringed some with metal stove pipe. Somehow they managed to dig claws into the metal, climb and feast on expensive seed.
Then we discovered spray grease. It’s sold in hardware stores and is meant to spray on drawer slides, hinges, and other balky metal parts. We sprayed it on the metal pipes holding up the feeders. Squirrels gingerly put their feet on the pipe and backed off as soon as they felt the grease. It works.
Spray grease only lasts a few weeks and needs to be reapplied, but it is a simple way to discourage squirrels from climbing to feeders.
Even in the teeth of a storm, squirrels feast to tide them over.
Boldly the fox squirrel hunkered down at the window feeder.
Quite the acrobat, this squirrel hung for more than 30 minutes eating seed.
A cautious squirrel scoping out the action.
A hungry squirrel
Squirrels have an amazing ability to climb just about any vertical pole.
This squirrel learned to climb the metal deflector pole and reached into the hanging feeder.
This grease works for a while. Remember to re-apply.
Squirrels are probably North America’s most acrobatic animals. They’re able to do seemingly impossible physical maneuvers.
Squirrels “wrists” articulate so they can climb agiley up and down.
One is hanging by their rear toes to snatch seeds from a hanging feeder. How do they do it?
Raccoons and house cats can climb up trees fairly rapidly but descending back to earth is a problem. Both must creep down tail first. It’s awkward and slow.
Squirrels, in contrast, can go up and down head first quickly and gracefully thanks to a special adaptation. Their ankles, or wrists, articulate. The squirrel may be heading down the trunk but its feet and claws point upward, enabling a good grip on the bark and a speedy dexterous descent.
Squirrels are outstanding tree climbers but once in a while they slip and fall. Twice at Winding Pathways we’ve seen squirrels fall from the top of big oaks. As they fall the hapless animals flattened themselves out and hit the ground like a swimmers belly flop. In both cases the animals shook themselves, looked around and scampered off unhurt. Imagine what would happen to a human falling 50 feet!
Next time you spot a squirrel hanging from a feeder or scampering down a tree examine its feet through binoculars. You may see upward facing feed on a downward facing animal. You Tube has some great close ups of squirrels paws and wrists. Enjoy the show!
We are lucky to have four species of oak trees on our property. Huge white oaks hug the north end with a few red oaks scattered between them. Two medium sized black oaks live close to the house and a young bur oak is just beginning to cast shade south of the house.
Millions of other homeowners are also fortunate to have oaks shading their property. They are one of the most widespread trees, and are beautiful, sturdy, valued by wildlife and long lived. A white oak could shade the ground and feed squirrels for up to 400 years. Some species, like red oaks, grow relatively quickly and tolerate moderate shade while most other oaks, like our bur, need full sun and grow slowly.
About 600 oak species are found naturally across the northern hemisphere. Approximately 90 species live in the United States. China boasts around 100 species, and Mexico is probably the world leader in oak diversity with at least 160 species. They have been widely planted in temperate regions including many places where they don’t occur naturally.
Oaks are members of the beech family with the genus name Quercus. It’s rather easy to distinguish an oak tree, but determining just what oak species a tree belongs to can be tricky. Many oaks hybridize with similar oak species and a tree may have characteristics of each parent. Sometimes the shape of an oak leaf near the top of a tree may be shaped differently from a counterpart lower down.
Non-showy oaks flower in mid spring about the time leaves appear. Male blooms are slim, drooping and green or tan in color. Each female flower is a solitary spike. People allergic to the wind borne pollen generally suffer in the spring.
Throughout history oak wood has been readily used by people. Even wine corks are made from the bark of Portuguese oaks. Oak was widely used in the construction of sailing ships. It’s said that the oak sides of the USS Constitution were so tough that British cannonballs bounced back. That’s where the nickname Old Ironsides came from! Oak is the traditional wood for liquor aging barrels but today it is most commonly used for hardwood flooring and furniture. Few woods produce more fireplace heat than oak.
Squirrels are just one of the wildlife species that love acorns. Among the host of other wild animals that relish acorns are deer, bears, woodchucks, wild turkeys and blue jays. However, oak leaves or acorns can be toxic to cows that eat too many. Tannin is the bitter element in oaks and acorns and long ago humans learned how to remove it to create delicious food. Each fall we look forward to harvesting acorns. Few foods are as delicious as maple syrup on warm acorn muffins.
Subscribe to Winding Pathways to learn how to process acorns into food.
For further Information
One of the most fascinating tree books ever written was published back in 1948. It is a two volume set by David Culross Perry. One volume covers trees of eastern North America while its counterpart describes western species. If you spot it for sale at a garage or used book sale snap it up.
Websites, apps and books abound that help identify and learn about trees. Our favorite websites are from the National Arbor Day Foundation at and the US Forest Service. Our favorite tree identification book is the Sibley Guide to Trees.
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.