Ask SIB: How Do I Keep Squirrels Out of My Feeders?

Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) welcome questions from our community of birding friends! If you have one, just fill out the form on our website or send us an email!

I’m having a problem with pesky bossy squirrels that are cleaning out my bird feeders taking the great majority of the seed. I read that one can add cayenne pepper and crushed red pepper into the seed before putting it into the feeders and that this will deter the squirrels but not the birds (as they do not have taste receptors for capsaicin). As the bird expert, do you know whether or not that adding the pepper to the feeders will not hurt the birds and if not, approximately how much one needs to add?

Leslie Baylis

Quick response : Hi there!  You are correct – In fact you can buy suet with red pepper at Wild Birds and I can attest it works that squirrels don’t like and birds don’t mind. But let’s ask our “resident naturalist,” Bob Mercer, to see if he has any more details.

Nancy Brown

Nancy, you are right. Mammals do not like red pepper and birds don’t react to it. Some people think it is cruel for the squirrel, especially if they rub their eyes. I think a little shock therapy goes a long way. As to the amount, that is another question. The common wisdom is birds can tolerate 20,000 parts per million (PPM) while mammals can tolerate more like 20 PPM. So, you do not need a lot. One source, which is totally anecdotal suggested a ¾ cup for a 40 lb. bag of seed. Squirrels are quick learners, so if you do not get it strong enough the first time, who knows how they will behave. One word of caution! Red Pepper is a problem for us also. It can be a skin irritant and if you get it in your eyes, it will most likely involve a trip to the hospital, especially if you are working with large quantities. Do not shake the pepper flakes into your bird feeder on a windy day! Mix it inside.

My suggestion if you want to go this route is to try a ½ tsp of either Cayenne pepper or Red Pepper flakes in each feeder and see if it works. If it does, you should be able to reduce to ¼ tsp or even eliminate adding the pepper flakes once the squirrels are trained to stay away, repeating the process only when they catch on that you are no longer using the flakes.

Bob Mercer, SIB’s “Resident Naturalist”

Thanks, both Nancy and Bob. I put some cayenne pepper in the feeder on Wednesday afternoon and saw the squirrels yesterday (Thursday) but not up on the feeders- they were nosing around on the ground. However, today they’re not even under the feeders so I think this approach worked. Thank you both for your help. Now, maybe you have some wise advice about the deer eating the plants…

Leslie Baylis
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