Getting Fussy Now Are We?

You’ll recall that just before Christmas we bought the birds a bag of black sunflower seeds as a festive treat. They were served up, as their seed always has been, in a dish on the top of the bird table.

 
 

 

Three in a beak will go..

 

The sunflower seeds went down extraordinarily well. The dish was emptied within minutes and attracted many more birds than I’ve ever seen around the bird table before. Of course the increased level of activity was never going to go unnoticed. Luncheon (avian and human) was soon interrupted on a daily basis by the need to chase off the squirrels.

We have become practised in the art of ‘squirrel herding’ as it’s come to be known. Exploding out of the kitchen door doing my very best impression of a screaming banshee I have flushed out three squirrels on many a separate occasion. It’s best when they flee together as a group, hence the herding, thus saving me the awkward decision of which one to pursue to the death. Or at least as far as the nearest tree. Sometimes the encounter provides more in the way of sport, like the launching of a squirrel into mid air. Obviously a rookie, my quarry had raced headlong down the lawn only to find itself confronted by the Lonicera hedge which it’s fair to say has grown inconveniently tall on account of the gardener’s neglect. Options having become limited at this point the squirrel-turned-Harrier-jump-jet cleared an impressive two and a half vertical feet before hurling itself sideways over the hedge. Did it know about the steep slope on the other side?

Of course they always get away. And they always will. But it does give me some satisfaction to realise that these days I get closer to catching up. Fitness levels are improving. I read last week that the best form of exercise one can take is in short bursts of high level activity, enough to get you out of puff and your heart properly racing. People, I am ahead of the curve. But seriously. Such labour intensive methods of squirrel control are unsustainable in the long term. Not to mention disagreeable during lunch given the high likelihood of indigestion. A squirrel proof seed feeder would need to be purchased and as it happened I found one advertised in The Garden that very same day.

 
 

 

Coal Tit and ‘Pest Off’

The theory is that the smaller birds, up to and including a woodpecker, can stand on the perch and access the seed. Anything heavier and the perch sinks under the weight, pulling down the metal barrier to close off the port.

 
 

 

Great Tit

Some of the reviews had suggested the birds would take a while to find the feeder and work out how to use it. Ours had it cracked in under five minutes. But there was a catch. The feeder is quite large, even though we had bought the smaller of the two sizes available..

 
 

 

..and the bird table wasn’t especially high off the ground.

‘Pest Off’ is double the length of the peanut feeder shown above. The squirrels would easily be able to reach it.

 
 
 

 

It’s true the bird table had seen better days. But then it did have a lot to put up with..

 
 

 

The aftermath of a recent squirrel fight.

 

And so a decision was made. We would rebuild the bird table and at the same time attach it to a taller pole.

Thus began a week of intensive activity in the Man Shed. It was important that Bird Table Mark II retained a rustic appearance. Pains were taken to ensure that only recycled wood was used. The flat bed of the new tray came from the previous owner’s treehouse, long since demolished, the raised sides sourced from an old garden bench. Drainage holes were provided (remember the rain) and the strength of the tray enhanced through the addition of a metal brace. Last weekend the masterpiece was revealed..

 
 

 

I even built a scree bed underneath since everything I’ve ever planted there has been trampled and in other ways sullied by the birds.

 

The purchase of a new bird feeder. The complete reconstruction of the bird table. The gathering of rocks and gravel and their arrangement to finish off the scene. A broken nail. All to defeat a few squirrels. The million dollar question then, does it actually work?

 
 

 

Marsh Tit. Butter wouldn’t melt.

You’ll notice that the feeder is filled with a variety of seeds. The remains of the black sunflower seed Christmas treat. Suet pellets which they also love. And the standard (economy) mixed seed which in the days prior to Christmas they used to gobble up with relish. Except that they don’t gobble it up any more. No, they have been spoiled good and proper. They prod and they poke and sift through the Pick and Mix. Sometimes a black sunflower seed is readily extracted and the bird flies off with the prize. Ditto the miniature fat snacks. But the mixed seed? The stuff that we still have in copious quantity back in the shed? What now happens to that? It is discarded. Unceremoniously chucked down on the ground.

 
 

 

A good source for the ground feeding birds perhaps?

Well it might have been. Except that we now seem to attract even more squirrels than we had before.

I give up.

 
 
 

2018-02-21T19:23:15+00:00 February 21st, 2018|Tags: , |

70 Comments

  1. Julieanne Porter February 21, 2018 at 11:52 am - Reply

    Trying to best squirrels is a tricky business. I suppose at least the squirrels might eat the seed the birds chuck onto the ground? On the whole, do you think the new feeder works against squirrels, despite the fussinness of the birds? I.e. should we purchased one too, for our own fights of squirrel vs exhausted humans?!

    Great photos of the birdehs!

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 5:29 pm - Reply

      There hasn’t really been a chance to test the feeder yet.. the squirrels don’t need to try it because there is enough food for them on the ground! The crunch time will come when our mixed seed supply runs out and we stock the feeder with only the stuff the birds like. There should then be less tossed out. It will be interesting to see if a. this is indeed the case b. if the squirrels, now short of food, then target the feeder and c. does the feeder defeat them!

  2. derrickjknight February 21, 2018 at 11:56 am - Reply

    Fun writing. Lovely photographs. Good luck with the squirrels

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 5:31 pm - Reply

      Thanks Derrick. One way or another I suspect we will be battling squirrels forever. They have a well developed capacity for revenge.

  3. Christina February 21, 2018 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    Funny and interesting – who knew birds could be spoilt? you’d think they would be grateful for whatever they are given.

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 5:34 pm - Reply

      That is exactly what I’d thought up to now. But no. It appears they know what they want and hold out for it. Maybe they’ll change their minds now it has started to get much colder.

  4. Mary February 21, 2018 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    US squirrels are every bit as pesky, quick and athletic as their UK counterparts. Cirque du Soleil could learn a thing or two from them. As for finicky, US birds won’t go back to the cheaper feed either once they have had the “caviar” of bird seed. The only thing slowing down our bird feeding lately is the presence of a hawk and peregrine falcon. Without leaves on the tree for cover, birds aren’t quite willing to risk exposure.

    We have the squirrel proof feeder which offers four sides for feeding with a round bar for a perch. It will hold several small birds at the same time without closing off the feed, but add a couple of larger woodpeckers and no one gets to eat.

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 5:42 pm - Reply

      I can see the pros and cons of both types of feeder. It’s frustrating that this one only has two ports and there have been some fights. But mostly the birds wait patiently in a nearby tree until a space becomes vacant. It seems to be a well rehearsed process, a bit like planes landing at Heathrow (London) as Mike describes it!

  5. Heyjude February 21, 2018 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Wonderful! I had a smile on my face all the way through this post. I love watching the garden birds in my garden. No squirrels, but a pair of magpies are regular visitors and occasionally a crow. Once I saw a brown rat on the seed tray, which made me bring the food in during the summer and I still don’t leave any suet out overnight. Black sunflower seeds and the ones without the husk are definitely favourites.

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 5:46 pm - Reply

      We now have some sunflower hearts but haven’t tried them yet. They will replace the mixed seed when it runs out. Hopefully then there will be less wastage. I’ve noticed the husks from the black seeds starting to litter the place. Then they suddenly disappear. I expect the squirrel hoovering machine takes care of them too.

  6. jkitt750 February 21, 2018 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    Such a good read, and one I can relate to having gone through similar circumstances myself. We tried to disract the squirrels by putting up a feeder just for them next to their a tree. Of course they ignored it and kept raiding the bird feeder.

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 5:50 pm - Reply

      I’ve seen that suggested in a number of places and always wondered why the squirrels wouldn’t just eat all of theirs and then head straight for the bird feeders. Or vice versa. Seems that is exactly what they do!

  7. FlowerAlley February 21, 2018 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    This couldn’t have been more clear if you had included a video. The mixed seed always gets tossed. The new bird table is lovely. At least now the birds can eat in peace as the squirrels dine below on the discards. I’d say this is a win/win. Good for you!

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 5:55 pm - Reply

      The trouble is the squirrels are still doing a lot of damage to the flower border below. I will need to use more rocks for sure but their range extends beyond the area I had envisaged as hard landscaping! Seems that while they are around they excavate the soil to see what else they can find. Next experiment is to quit using the mixed seed and hope there is less wastage. Fun this scientific process isn’t it?!

  8. Sam February 21, 2018 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    It seems like a win win situation to me 🙂 Very impressed with birdtable mark II – it looks great.

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 6:25 pm - Reply

      The squirrels will have to be very careful they don’t fall from such a great height 😉

  9. justjilluk February 21, 2018 at 3:30 pm - Reply

    That made me laugh! Wonder if there is any marijuana seed in the mix, there usually is, and I am sure you know makes a lovely plant.

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 6:26 pm - Reply

      It is a very attractive plant. I shall still weed assiduously though..

  10. Chloris February 21, 2018 at 4:20 pm - Reply

    And what would you do with the squirrels if you caught them? I have a friend who used to feed one and it got quite tame. One day dinner was a bit late and it came into the kitchen demanding food in a very menacing way. She stopped feeding it after that, but then the wretched thing terrorised her every time she went in the garden. These little rats with bushy tails can be vicious once they lose their fear. They’ll be chasing you next.
    Lovely bird photos, I love the marsh tit.

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 6:29 pm - Reply

      It got that way with the pheasant. I couldn’t go outside the back door without him pestering me for food. I don’t feed them now, a shame really because I loved having them around.

  11. Archie The Wonder Dog February 21, 2018 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    I would suggest enticing a Mr and Mrs Woodpigeon into your garden and introducing them to the delights of the fallen seed – their humongous appetite will ensure nothing is left for the squirrels…

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 6:31 pm - Reply

      It’s strange but we do have pigeons and I’ve never once seen one on or near the bird table. Perhaps if they discovered that seed is now on the menu it might change.

  12. pollymacleod February 21, 2018 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    I have chuckled all the way through this post Jessica, particularly your description of you exploding out of the kitchen in hot pursuit of the squirrels! You write so well.
    What a clever idea the ‘Pest Off’ is. Your Bird Table Mark II is very smart, and the scree underneath is a good idea. What is the cone shape on top of it?
    Your Marsh Tit and Great Tit are adorable.

    • pollymacleod February 21, 2018 at 11:02 pm - Reply

      And the Cole Tit 🙂

      • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 7:06 pm - Reply

        We seem to have a very skewed bird population here. Coal tits and marsh tits are the most frequently seen. No sparrows ever. I’m hoping that one of the benefits of the cold weather (perhaps the only one!) might be a long tailed tit sighting.

        • pollymacleod February 22, 2018 at 8:55 pm - Reply

          There used to be a family of sparrows nesting in my neighbour’s bamboo plant near the house. I loved watching them hop around the patio and garden, they always looked plump and healthy. Then the neighbours got 2 kittens, no more sparrows, I miss them.

          • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 9:21 pm

            They do seem to be quite fickle. I have sat in a friend’s garden, less than five minutes away, watching countless sparrows and yet here not a one. Wonder what I did? Can’t blame it on a cat either 🙁

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 6:42 pm - Reply

      The cone is a sort of woven twig type thing that we inherited along with the bird table, purely ornamental, but it is very tatty now. I had thought to ‘thatch’ it with the straw that the woodpecker kindly pulled out of the roof. But the frame is rusting away too so it really has had it. Searching online we reckon it is one of those inverted cone shaped hanging baskets that you see for sale.. so we’ve ordered one to see if it will work.

      • pollymacleod February 22, 2018 at 8:58 pm - Reply

        Many thanks Jessica, I can see the frame now. It still has a rustic charm about it though.

        • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 9:22 pm - Reply

          I agree. The new one will feel a bit too pristine methinks.

  13. grammapenny February 21, 2018 at 6:02 pm - Reply

    It could be worse.. you could have deer and wild turkeys! the new feeder table is gorgeous.. hope it works

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 6:44 pm - Reply

      We do have deer but no turkeys. Pheasants though.. almost as bad!

  14. Ali February 21, 2018 at 6:44 pm - Reply

    Our birds have become equally picky since I bought sunflower seeds! I haven’t filled up one feeder for three weeks, but they wolf down the peanuts, sunflower seeds, niger and fatballs. I love the vision of you chasing the pesky squirrels.

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 6:48 pm - Reply

      Once they get the gourmet lifestyle there’s no looking back! But there is no point in wasting food. The squirrels have quite enough to eat already. The acorns they’ve buried all through my flower borders for a start.

  15. Kris P February 21, 2018 at 7:33 pm - Reply

    I now have (I kid you not) 6 of those “squirrel buster” bird feeders, mounted in groups of 3 on 2 different ends of the garden. One group is filled with good (expensive) seed and the others are filled with the economy mix. That’s my compromise. The economy mix does indeed get strewn on the ground to feed the scrub jays, doves, and, yes, squirrels. It all gets eaten, even if the good stuff goes faster. The squirrels periodically attempt to break into the feeders but at best they manage a nibble while their back legs slowly slide down the feeder pole with their front paws pulling the seed portals closed as they go, but those attempts seem to get fewer and fewer as the months pass. Meanwhile, the squirrels have taken up eating my Gazanias and all sorts of other flowers and foliage. Winning against the squirrels is like battling windmills.

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 6:53 pm - Reply

      I love your description of the squirrels attempting the feeders. Their first attempt at a thin metal pole here had a similar effect but they seem to have mastered it now. I have a mind to go out and grease the pole, see if that thwarts them. There might even be a video sequel in it..

  16. wherefivevalleysmeet February 21, 2018 at 7:59 pm - Reply

    It is an impossible task defeating squirrels – I sometimes think that I will give myself a heart attack running out bashing a tinlid with a wooden spoon. However, one of my friends has now warned me off from doing it, she thinks that I suffer more than the sqirrels!!! Lovely photos.

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 6:59 pm - Reply

      It is so frustrating seeing the squirrels get all the seed and the birds perched up in a nearby tree watching helplessly. I can quite understand what drives you to it Rosemary!

  17. Brian Skeys February 21, 2018 at 10:27 pm - Reply

    A lot of the seed in the economy mixes seed eaters discard. (Pigeons love it) It is in my opinion a waste of money. The best food is sunflower hearts Jessica. There is a post on bird feeding on my blog which you may find useful.

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 7:02 pm - Reply

      I’m coming to the same opinion re waste of money. It’s annoying since they ate it perfectly happily a couple of months ago! I will look up your post, thank you Brian.

  18. ginaferrari February 22, 2018 at 9:02 am - Reply

    I don’t think I have any suggestions for defeating the squirrels as we have the same problem. Absolutely nothing I have rigged up has defeated them and sometimes I think there are more squirrels than birds. Your tale did make me laugh though x

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 7:09 pm - Reply

      Thanks Gina. Squirrel numbers do seem to be increasing. I can understand why. They are so resourceful. I have a grudging admiration, even if they are a pain in the butt!

  19. Susan Garrett February 22, 2018 at 10:33 am - Reply

    We have a similar weight restricted feeder. It’s hung in a tree and when we first hung it the squirrels worked out that if they could hung upside down by the tail they could still reach the food inside. The solution was to but a long hook which hung from the tree and then attache the feeder to that which worked a treat, We have ours filled with sunflower hearts which the birdsabsolutely adore.

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 7:13 pm - Reply

      Sunflower hearts are the next thing to try. Squirrels are such little devils. We thought about hanging the feeder from a tree too. It’s a case of finding a low enough branch where we can easily fill it and somewhere near enough for me to see it. It’s not just for the birds after all!

  20. stephanie young February 22, 2018 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    I adore the new bird table…..was quite fond of the old bird table, but the new and improved version makes my heart sing!!!! I have carefully forwarded this to hubby who has more will than skill. We’ll see what happens!!! Fab photos!!!

    • Jessica February 22, 2018 at 7:16 pm - Reply

      I shall probably regret saying it (if Mike reads the comments) but it wasn’t that hard to make. Apparently his first woodwork project at school was a bird table. Could I have left it in better hands?!

  21. Beth @ PlantPostings February 22, 2018 at 10:57 pm - Reply

    Oh dear, that is a struggle! We have tons (dozens?) of squirrels in our backyard, and it took us a while to find system that would keep them out of the bird feeders. For many years now, our thin pole with a large baffle has been successful. I see that Doctors Foster and Smith has baffles for sale online for reasonable prices. But I suppose the shipping to you might be expensive, and you probably have other sources nearby. Honestly, squirrels never get into our bird seed with that baffle in place. But it’s fun to watch the juvenile ones try. 😉

    • Jessica February 25, 2018 at 6:51 pm - Reply

      Now that we have a longer pole I’m seriously thinking about some kind of baffle. It wouldn’t have worked before, the pole wasn’t tall enough. It would probably need to be a baffle we could construct given the nonstandard width of the pole but it’s definitely worth considering. Stopping the squirrels climbing on to the bird table would be a major breakthrough.

  22. hb February 23, 2018 at 3:22 pm - Reply

    A beautiful job on the table, even if the problems remain. Talented Man you have!

    I am tempted to put out a bit of bird seed since the urn fountain has become so popular, but rodents of all sorts would come as well. Gaillardia flowers left untrimmed–they bloom year round–feed the finches; warblers go for the Grevillea flowers, the Tits for tiny bugs (aphids?). The local squirrels go for our avocados, and I’ve chased them off so much they know me by sight and run in terror. That is some satisfaction, though the avocados continue to vanish.

    • Jessica February 25, 2018 at 6:53 pm - Reply

      I seem to have acquired the same personal reputation. But, as you suggest, while the cat’s away..

  23. Freda February 23, 2018 at 9:45 pm - Reply

    You may remember that here my west of Scotland garden cheap perfumed soap keep the deer off my plants – I wonder if it would work with squirrels? Little chunks around the bird table? Just a thought and cheap to try.

    • Jessica February 25, 2018 at 6:55 pm - Reply

      I’m willing to try anything. If nothing else we will have the most fragrant squirrels in the village 🙂

  24. Cathy February 24, 2018 at 7:35 pm - Reply

    Great post Jessica, as always! We don’t bother with mixed seed anymore because of the waste (and mess!) and just use the sunflower hearts

    • Jessica February 25, 2018 at 6:57 pm - Reply

      According to the chief bird feeder we have two more days worth of mixed seed left. After that we’re going the same way. Thanks Cathy.

  25. Linda February 25, 2018 at 2:45 pm - Reply

    Another great post Jessica…seems Squirrels are a worldwide problem, when trying to feed and enjoy the beauty of our feathered friends.
    Good luck!
    Cheers!
    Linda :o)

    ps…sure wish my boyfriend was handy!😉

    • Jessica February 25, 2018 at 8:21 pm - Reply

      Thanks Linda. At least you still have some reds. The American grey is taking over here. Such a shame.

  26. CherryPie February 25, 2018 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    I like your new bird table. I keep thinking I should get one for my garden but then I remember the cats…

    • Jessica February 25, 2018 at 8:24 pm - Reply

      It’s one of the main reasons I’ve resisted getting a cat, even though we could do with a good mouser. Lately we’ve had a feline visitor but not often enough to be a problem.

  27. karen February 26, 2018 at 11:46 am - Reply

    You always make me laugh. Ive given up trying to defeat the blessed squirrels. I now just put out twice as much food – enough for both, and I try to enjoy the squirrels’ antics. Much better than running out flapping my arms every time I see them. Calm has been restored here, for now 🙂 x

    • Jessica February 28, 2018 at 10:18 am - Reply

      There are so many squirrels, they just keep going until they eat the lot, the more the better for them. The tits, nuthatches etc eat from the feeder which, so far, hasn’t been attacked. It’s the ground feeding birds I worry about, who have all their food stolen. I have even been guarding it for them this morning, given that it went down to -7 last night. Now they’ve had a little I’ve gone back to having a life and the squirrels have moved in once more!

  28. Sarah February 26, 2018 at 5:11 pm - Reply

    A few days ago I was given a lovely bouquet by my son. I trimmed the stems, put the ends in the cellophane from around the flowers, and set off for the compost bin via the bird table, which needed topping up.
    About 10 minutes later there was our regular squirrel, running around with something firmly fixed to its tail . I peered out, and saw the sachet of flower food, which must have got mixed up with the stems, now waving like a flag on the little pest! It was back again today without the tail ornament, but I did feel quite guilty at the time!

    • Jessica February 28, 2018 at 10:34 am - Reply

      That must have been a sight! They get into everything. Squirrels are naturally curious. I do have a sneaking admiration for them but it doesn’t make them the easiest of adversaries.

  29. Donna@GardensEyeView February 26, 2018 at 6:05 pm - Reply

    I have long battled squirrels and we opted not to put up feeders as our neighbors 2 doors down seem to have it worked out to defeat the squirrels….amazing. So I have suet feeders for the birds and the squirrels get to mine. I give up too!

    • Jessica February 28, 2018 at 10:39 am - Reply

      It is a never ending battle of wits. Whatever we do the squirrels manage to find a way around it eventually. But it has got so cold here, they are obviously very hungry. Can you see the cracks appearing in the defence?

  30. Chris N February 26, 2018 at 7:44 pm - Reply

    Some of our squirrels have figured out how to open the chicken food garbage can that holds bird seed. They actually lift the top off and then we find the shells of sunflower seeds all over. Go figure!! He is getting to a very fat squirrel Nutkin.

    • Jessica February 28, 2018 at 10:55 am - Reply

      Squirrels are quite amazing aren’t they. You’ll have to put it under lock and key. Even then I’m not sure it would work…

  31. Charles February 28, 2018 at 9:00 am - Reply

    Tomorrow is Spring, -9 this morning and -5 in the greenhouse, although by 09:00 it has reached +5. Having made it through the winter it looks Spring will a mighty cull. I also predict a lovely warm March when it is too late to be any good. As long as we do not get any burst pipes I will sit in front of the fire with a book and hurl insults at the news.

    • Jessica February 28, 2018 at 11:01 am - Reply

      -7 here, but the max/min is in a fairly sheltered place. I dread to think how cold it was at the top of the hill. The greenhouse is heated but as Mike is studying the electricity bills very carefully these days I’m not sure how long that will last. Hurling insults at the news is good therapy, even if it changes nothing.

  32. Sarah February 28, 2018 at 9:47 pm - Reply

    Oh dear you always seem on the loosing side with the wildlife! We bought mixed seed last year that the birds wouldn’t eat and has been sitting in the potting shed all year. I have been recently been mixing it with fat and refilling the coconut shells and they it has all been eaten! Sarah x

    • Jessica March 1, 2018 at 7:11 pm - Reply

      Well done, I hate wasting stuff too. I think the squirrels had most of the mixed seed in the end but it’s all gone now here too. Lessons learned, we won’t be buying it again.

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