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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Open 9 to 6 Mon. through Sat.
and 10 to 5 on Sun.

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

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Express-News Weekly Column Saturday, December 30, 2000 Submitted by Calvin Finch, Ph.D., Director of Conservation, SAWS, and Horticulturist


Many readers of this column enjoy feeding birds. A healthy drought-tolerant landscape with a diverse mix of plants will attract a large bird population on its own, but for easier observation some of us feed the birds. The activity is fun, easy and relatively inexpensive. A major challenge to successful bird feeding is squirrels. The clever rodents can be interesting in their own right, but eat a lot and do considerable damage to feeders. They are not content to eat one sunflower seed per visit. Wooden feeders are chewed up to gain access to the bounty, suet cakes are consumed in big chunks, and a squirrel can easily carry off and eat a pound of seed in one morning.

In the past we tried to limit the squirrels access by greasing the wire or poles holding the feeders. We also tried to have them far enough away from launching pads to prevent the acrobatic jumps for which squirrels are famous. Sometimes these tactics work but not usually. Here are some simpler solutions to try:

Birds love chili petins and do not seem to be bothered by pepper in any form. Squirrels on the other hand do not like pepper. Select suet cakes and seed mixes that are flavored with pepper. You can prepare your own pepper sprays to apply to nut cakes, suet and seeds by soaking a lot of habaneros (or other cheap, hot, dry pepper) in a plastic five-gallon bucket in the sun. The more it stews, the better it works. Drain off a small amount and dilute it with two parts water to one part pepper sauce to spray the seeds.

If this anti-squirrel pepper sauce strategy reminds you of the anti-deer pepper sauce, they are almost the same. The deer deterrent usually includes soap. Squirrels like soap so leave it out of the formula.

Another anti-squirrel tactic that works well is to use feeders that are squirrel resistant. The long-term champion in this regard are the Absolute brand feeders. They are sturdy, steel feeders with weight-sensitive perches that close when the heavy rodents apply their weight. I set my perches to be open to cardinals and bluejays but closed to white winged doves and squirrels.

There are at least two other weight-sensitive squirrel resistant feeders on the market, the Squirrel Surprise by Galee Industries and the Yankee Flipper by Droll Yankee, the feeder that looks the most fun. The Yankee Flipper is a tube feeder with a battery-operated weight-sensitive perch. When the squirrel mounts the perch it quickly rotates. On our KLUP radio show we dubbed it the "squirrel slinger". The action is vigorous and the $120 price tag may be worth it just to see the squirrel attempt to hold on to the perch.

If you get tired of trying to outsmart the squirrels with high tech feeders, they are relatively easy to trap. A $20 box trap and some peanut butter will catch one right after the other. Some people relocate the squirrels (stay away from my neighborhood!) and others dispatch them to heaven ( has recipes!). The solution is not permanent, however. If you are in a well-wooded area, the population density can be high and a yard with bird feeders is prime squirrel real estate. I trapped six out of our eight regular squirrels and within two weeks our population was back up to five. Within a few months the young of the year will fill any population gaps.

Squirrels are not all bad; besides making a great stew, the battle to keep them off of bird feeders has given meaning to many a gardener's life!

For the products mentioned in this article visit your favorite bird specialty store or neighborhood nursery