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Keep squirrels from feasting on bird seed

| Saturday, Feb. 28, 2009

Question: Yesterday, my neighbor left a note requesting that I no longer feed the birds and squirrels with hopper feeders. He says they're attracting mice. The feeders are filled with sunflower seeds and are 25 feet to 50 feet from his house. The neighbor on the other side of me does not have problems with mice, nor do I. As a friendly gesture, I have taken down the feeders for the moment. What are the odds that the feeders are the cause for my neighbor's mice and squirrel problems• Any suggestions?

Answer: The odds are very good that the feeders are contributing to the neighbor's mice and squirrel problems. Abundant food supplies can cause rodent populations to explode. These rodents need shelter, and so they try to enter homes. The trick, then, is to keep your house in tip-top condition and impervious to the interlopers. That might be why you and another neighbor don't have mice problems -- at least, not yet.

Here are some tips collected from readers and wildlife experts for feeding birds without also feeding mice and squirrels:

• Don't spread birdseed on the ground.

• Add a tray or basin to the feeder to catch seed and prevent it from falling to the ground. Empty frequently.

• Switch feeders to a type that keeps squirrels out. (Several versions are available at stores that sell bird seed and feeders.)

• Don't use mixed bird seed. Birds with special tastes will dig and toss seed around until they get what they want. If you want to feed different birds, use more than one feeder, such as one feeder with safflower seed, another with sunflower seed and another with thistle seed.

• Dose your seed with cayenne pepper. It's a chemical irritant that affects mammals such as squirrels, but not birds. (Hint: Spray the birdseed with vegetable spray oil as you mix in the cayenne pepper. The pepper will stay on the seed rather than fall to the bottom. Just be sure to clean the feeder regularly to prevent rancid oil problems.)

• Mount the feeder on a pole and add a baffle to keep critters from climbing it.

• Store birdseed in metal containers.

• Fill feeders in a place where you can clean up what spills.

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