In the winter months, food is not any more plentiful for squirrels, raccoons, stray cats and other backyard predators than it is for the birds. Add to that irresponsible types allowing their well-fed house cats to roam and kill birds for sport, and it’s a wonder we have any backyard birds at all. Hundreds of millions of songbirds are killed yearly in the United States by house cats allowed to roam loose. It is therefore important to protect the feed (from squirrels and raccoons and such) and protect the birds (from cats).
Locating your bird feeders several feet from natural cover so the birds can hide if necessary, but not so close to allow predators cover for an ambush is very helpful. Large brush piles, shrubbery or hedges work well for this.
Another trick to help protect the birds from predators is wetting small rags with ammonia and locating these several feet apart in a ‘ring’ pattern several feet away from the feeder. This has actually proven surprisingly effective at my house. Even when the rags dry out, enough odor apparently remains to deter the critters on the ground; it is only once a week or after a rain or snow that you will need to refresh the rags with more ammonia.
You may also consider placing temporary fencing around feeding stations to keep predators and ‘pest’ wildlife away, but obviously the fencing has to be several feet tall.
There are specialized feeders with mechanical repellents such as caged perches or squirrel baffles which can protect the birdseed from marauding squirrels; Rachel at A Bird’s Paradise at 2nd Street Market in Dayton can help you with these.
You can also try offering other food for the ‘pest’ animals, such as cobs of field corn for the squirrels in a different location so they at least in theory they will not be tempted to raid your bird feeders (hahahaha!). If nothing else, if you get a squirrel bungee cord feeder, the squirrels will provide you with entertainment and may even plant a fine crop of field corn for you, as they did at my house.
One final word on ‘pest’ wildlife: while you do need to take steps to protect the wild birds from predators, the ‘pest’ wildlife which devours the seeds also need to eat. Many times in the harshest weather, even wild cottontail rabbits will find sustenance in the meager seeds dropped beneath the bird feeders. There is virtue in sharing.
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