Squirrels are agile, ingenious little critters. Sometimes it seems that no matter what you do, they will steal the nuts from right under the beaks of your garden birds. They'll jump from distant trees, hang on the thinnest wire and chew the toughest plastic to get to their prize. But there are ways to your squirrel-proof your bird feeder with nothing more than a few household items. Then when the hungry squirrels arrive, they'll have to wait for the scraps the birds drop to the ground.
A lot of bottle
Large, see-through plastic bottles make good ammunition in the war against squirrels. The slippery sides make it difficult for squirrels to hang on. Even better, you can use a squirrel's own weight against it. Cut the end off a bottle big enough to contain the feeder. Attach the feeder to a garden cane and run it up through the uncapped bottle. Stick a piece of string to the bottle and run it up through a loop attached to cane. Hang metal washers at the other end to counterbalance the bottle. Then, when a squirrel lands on the bottle, it drops down over the feeder.
Set up an obstacle course
A feeder suspended from a washing line won't put off squirrels; they simple run along the line like tightrope walkers. However, add some tricky obstacles along the line, and the squirrel's job gets more difficult. As ever, slippery items such as plastic bottles work well. Similarly, large plastic discs make it hard for the squirrel to climb over without falling off. Eventually the smartest squirrels will work out a way round your obstacle course. Switch up the obstacles every week or two to keep them guessing.
Baffle the blighters
A squirrel-busting alternative to plastic bottles is a plastic baffle, according to the authors of "Squirrel Wars." These sit over the top of a suspended bird feeder, making it difficult for the squirrels to get underneath the baffle to the nuts. Drill a hole in the centre of a wide, transparent plastic dome. Thread this down the twine that holds the feeder. It should rest just above the nut cage. If you can't get hold of a plastic dome, a cone-shape will work nearly as well. For example, try a large cooking funnel.
Bin that squirrel
Squirrels laugh at pole-mounted bird feeders. They're so easy to climb that a squirrel can be up and at the nuts in seconds. A simple way to stop them in their tracks is to put an upturned bin between the top of the pole and the feeder body. The squirrel climbs the pole, entering the rubbish bin -- but there's nowhere to go when they get to the top. The only drawback with this approach is that it can be a little unsightly. Paint the rubbish bin the same colour as your feeder to make it slightly more attractive.
A variation on the suspended baffle for pole feeders involves adding a circular piece of wood or plastic two-thirds of the way up the pole. The baffle disc needs to be 18-inches in diameter or more to prevent the squirrels from jumping over it, according to Scott D. Campbell in "Easy-To-Make Bird Feeders for Woodworkers." Use square-bend screw hooks or strong wood glue to make sure the baffle doesn't fall off the first time a squirrel hits it.
Cage the cage
Squirrels can chew through thin bird feeder mesh easily. Thick wire, on the other hand, resists even the strongest squirrel teeth. One squirrel-proofing option is to set your bird feeder cage inside a wire cage. If the wire gaps are spaced correctly, then small birds can pass through to the nuts, but squirrels cannot. The added bonus is that it keeps out marauding bigger birds such as magpies and woodpigeons. You may need to widen or shrink the holes until you get them just the right size for the birds in your garden.
Other squirrel-proofing tips
However you plan to squirrel-proof your bird feeder, it pays to follow a few extra simple tips to keep the rodents at bay. First off, keep the feeder well away from trees, roofs, bushes -- or anything that allows the squirrel to leap onto the feeder platform. Similarly, keep suspended feeders at least 5 feet from ground level, according to Kate Rowinski in "The Joy of Birding." Also, don't be tempted to put a sticky or greasy substance on your feeder pole. This effort to put off squirrels can damage the feathers of the garden birds you want to feed.