Out-Witting Squirrels and Blackbirds

How To Discourage Squirrels And Black Birds At The Bird Feeder

when all else fails…use Safflower seed

I have been in the bird feeding industry for 16 years, operating a wild bird specialty store. Two of the most common complaints I hear from customers who enjoy feeding birds are is that squirrels are raiding the feeder, consuming mass quantities of bird seed, and at times, destroying the feeder beyond repair.  Most backyard bird lovers who feed birds actually enjoy a squirrel or two, as long as they stay off the bird feeder. But, unfortunately, if you feed birds you are inadvertently going to feed squirrels as well.
The other complaint is that the Common Grackle, a large black bird generally in small flocks. These birds have a tendency to over power bird feeders, driving off the more desirable birds people are working to attract. These Grackles can also consume large quantities of seed as well, often emptying a bird feeder in a short period of time.
So, what can a person do to deter squirrels and Grackles, yet maintain a successful backyard bird feeding program, attracting Cardinals, Chickadees, finches, and all the desirable backyard birds. So what can one do to alleviate these sometime menacing critters?
Rest assured the manufacturers of backyard bird feeders are quite aware of the encounters people have with squirrels and Grackles, mostly those that are not so pleasant. They have developed numerous bird feeders that close or have collapsing perches from the weight of these two marauders, allowing lighter weight birds to feed. They have also designed bird feeders shrouded in cages to protect the seed from squirrels and large birds. These caged feeders work well for small birds such as finch, nuthatches, and Chickadees, or woodpeckers who have a long barbed tongue and can easily reach in to extract a morsel. But when you eliminate a large bird such as a Grackle from a feeder using a cage, you are also making it impossible for Cardinals and Blue Jays, and other large birds to access the food.
Squirrel proof bird feeders, and those bird feeders that are Grackle proof, are very functional and effective. These durable feeders carry warranties from 5 years to lifetime. They range from being an attractive basic bird feeder to those with a more decorative design. If you choose to purchase one of these feeders you will not be disappointed in the results.
If it is just squirrels you dealing with, you can always keep them off the bird feeder with a squirrel baffle as long as the dimensions are right and you pay attention to installation. A good quality pole or hanging squirrel baffle will prevent the squirrels from reaching the bird feeder. But if they are prevented from climbing the pole or sliding down a hook, they may just leap from a nearby fence, deck rails, or patio chair. Squirrels have an eight foot vertical leap, and a standing jump of four feet. They can shimmy up a half inch pole and slide down a piano wire. So if you opt to use a squirrel baffle, keep these facts in mind or they will just use another route. Squirrel baffles are extremely functional when properly used.

Safflower Seed & Nutra Saff

Another alternative that will eliminate both squirrels and Grackles from the backyard bird feeder is to use Safflower seed. Safflower seed (Carthamus tinctorius) is an annual oil seed crop grown in the United States and Canada. It has a rather hard, white, outer hull. Safflower provides three principle products: oil, meal, and bird seed. As a bird seed product, Safflower seed is high in protein. It can be used in any type of a bird feeder such as: tube feeders for house finch, Chickadees, and nuthatches, elevated feeders for Blue Jays, Cardinals, and other Grosbeaks, and on ground feeders for doves. For many people who feed birds they have added Safflower seed to their backyard bird feeding program along with other feed products. It attracts a large variety of birds.
Squirrels will not eat Safflower seed, even if the feeder is hanging right out side their front door or placed on the ground. But caution! Do not mix other seeds with it or they will sift through the feeder picking out the other products. Use Safflower seed in feeders where you have a squirrel problem, or when there are no other alternatives to keep them off the bird feeder.
Safflower seed is also an excellent feed to use when Grackles are over-powering the bird feeder, driving off all the other birds. It is not a very desirable food for Grackles, and often they just ignore it. You can virtually eliminate Grackles from your bird feeders by using Safflower. Again, however, do not mix in other seeds such as black oil sunflower, or the Grackles will sweep through it picking out their favorites. Use it straight in any bird feeder. If you live in central or northern states, immature Grackles may attempt to feed on it prior to migrating south. But when they return the following year as adults they show little interest in it.
Although it is traditional Safflower that has the hard, white, outer hull, which has been used in the bird feeding industry for years, a new hybrid Safflower called NutraSaff has recently been introduced. NutraSaff Safflower seed was bred without the white hull. The inner hull is a golden brown, thinner, and the process increased the oil content by as much as 30%. This equates to a Safflower seed which is higher in protein making it more desirable to the birds. In fact research has shown birds prefer Nutra-Saff over traditional Safflower seed two to one. Yet the Nutra-Saff retains the qualities that squirrels and Grackles dislike.

In my yard I use all the techniques I have suggested. When possible I use squirrel baffles to keep the squirrels foraging on the ground and off the bird feeders. Where location is a problem, I use squirrel proof bird feeders to do the trick and provide sunflower hearts and black oil sunflower seed in those feeders to the birds. The squirrel proof feeders make it a challenge for the Grackles to get any feed from, yet are accessible to the Cardinals and others. The caged feeders are always filled with sunflower hearts as the finch, Chickadees and woodpeckers have me filling them daily. And the ground and platform feeders have a supply of Safflower seed, NutraSaff to be exact, for the Cardinals, doves, and all my other favorite birds. As for the Grackles? They simply cannot find much to eat so pose little problem. And the squirrels? We put some peanuts out for them. Otherwise, they do a fine job cleaning up any seed that the birds eject to the ground.

If you are using Safflower seed in your bird feeder for the fist time, be patient. The birds may feed on it immediately or it may take up to a week for them to identify this product. But once they do you’ll enjoy attracting the birds you want yet eliminate the Grackles and squirrels.

If you are replacing a product in your bird feeders with Safflower seed, you may experience squirrels and Grackles digging through it, looking for the bird seed they had previously enjoyed. It won’t take long before they abandon their attempts and leave the Safflower seed alone.

First year Grackles may tend to feed on the Safflower seed prior to their migrating south for the winter. However, when they return the following year as adults, they will have little to do with it.

2 thoughts on “Out-Witting Squirrels and Blackbirds

  1. Dottie carrick says:

    No help at all…I need to be able to feed the squirrels without being invaded by blackbirds!
    Thank you

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