Squirrels and bird feeders not a good mix

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By Sylvia Brockner

Another question from a reader this week asked how to keep squirrels out of bird feeders. Any of you who have read this column regularly recall that I wrote some time ago that I had given up trying to outsmart the squirrels.

However, here are a few general ideas on how to combat these furry robbers of birdseed. Some things have worked fairly well for me. My feeders are all on pulleys that keep them well above the ground and away from the supporting pole. The pole I use is a piece of 21/2 inch galvanized water pipe. At the top of this pole is a five-gallon paint can turned upside down, then two cross bars made from 2 x 4’s with pulleys on each end.
This supports four feeders and can all be assembled before the pole is erected and anchored in a deep hole filled with rocks and concrete. I use nylon climbing cords in the pulleys with snap hooks to hold the feeders. Squirrels can climb the pole but cannot get around the inverted paint can. This works fairly well to deter squirrels if there is no tree nearby that they can climb and then jump to the feeders from above.
They can jump and glide as much as 30 feet downhill. Squirrels are amazingly adept at figuring out ways of getting to sunflower seeds, which they apparently smell. I have not had squirrels on my feeders with this arrangement, but I have twice had the poles bent down to an obtainable high, once by elk and once by bear.
Other people I know hang their feeders from a cross wire stretched between two trees. Remember, this has the drawback that squirrels are tightrope walkers. If you use a rope heavy enough to hold your feeders, the squirrels can walk out along the rope to reach the feeders. A metal wire with a funnel at the ends helps stop this if it spins freely on the wire.
Plastic squirrel guards that tip work well when they are new and slippery, but anything that weathers soon becomes rough enough to give them a toehold. Squirrels seem to enjoy outsmarting you. The only way you can get even is to enjoy watching them trying to figure out a way to beat your system. They are exceedingly clever and determined.
The squirrels that you refer to as city squirrels are our largest squirrels. They are correctly known as fox squirrels and may be as much as 22 inches long including their tail. They are gray with a good bit of rust mixed into their coat around the face and belly. They are not native squirrels and are very aggressive toward other squirrels. They may be hunted with a small-game permit during a limited season. I feel the season might be increasing as they have increased in numbers in the past 30 years to the point where we have very few of the gentle native tassel-eared squirrels left in the area.
There is some argument as to whether they were introduced into Denver parks because there were no squirrels there or whether they found their own way into the area by working west along the Platte River Valley. Whatever the truth is, they have become serious, aggressive pests in the last 50 years and have moved along all the streams well into the mountains, and the beautiful native tassel-eared squirrels have all but disappeared from many areas.
If any of you would like to look at my feeder setup, feel free to call me. I would be happy to show you what I have done. I also have window guards that you might be interested in.