JoAnne Skelly: Outsmarting tree squirrels … or not |

JoAnne Skelly: Outsmarting tree squirrels … or not

JoAnne Skelly

We've been waging a battle with gray tree squirrels getting into our bird feeder. First it was bears, now it's squirrels!

Our feeder is a big one, holding 12 pounds of seed. It has numerous perches and a tray at the bottom that collects fallen seed. My husband made a 5-foot freestanding 1/2-inch square metal pole with a hook for the feeder, which hung about three feet off the ground. After seeing the gray squirrel sitting up in the tray of the feeder, we tried to figure out how he got up there. I saw him climb the pole once, so I greased the pole with canola oil. We had considered engine oil, but I didn't want the squirrel to get that on his feet, because he would track it everywhere or perhaps ingest it. Well, the oiled pole didn't work. He still climbed it.

I then put a paper plate on the pole as a temporary horizontal barrier to see if it would prevent him climbing. I was going to move it up and down to find the right height for optimal deterrence. The squirrel simply jumped to the feeder directly and ignored the plate. By this time, my husband decided to make the pole a foot taller with a metal plate barrier. With a longer pole and a barrier, surely the squirrel couldn't jump up to the feeder anymore? How silly we were! The squirrel easily climbed the pole and the plate or jumped to the plate, a perfect sitting area for him from which to swing himself out to the feeder.

The final effort was to put a large diameter PVC pipe around the pole in the hopes the squirrel couldn't climb it. Unfortunately, the 2-inch size my husband tried wasn't big enough. The squirrel prevailed. In the end, my husband took down the big feeder and hung it from a coat hanger up high in a poplar. The squirrel can't get down the hanger, or jump up from the ground, although it's hysterical to watch him try. From our fancy custom pole hanger, we have hung a small feeder with no tray. The squirrel can climb the pole but can't reach the feeder from it. He also can jump all he wants but can't hang onto the feeder.

How is it two fairly intelligent, resourceful people were completely outfoxed (or is it out-squirreled?) by a little gray squirrel and his buddies?

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at