Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeder


Bird feeder in the LA Natural History Museum garden.

One of a series of posts inspired by our recent tour of the new gardens at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum.

The Nature Gardens at the NHM are not large by the usual standards of botanical gardens, and they are only about a year old, but they are already rich with bird and insect life. (A poorwill even visited, which apparently caused quite a bit of excitement in the birding community.) This is because the designers chose plants to serve wildlife, and the wildlife responded. Build it and they will come.

Off in one shady corner of the garden, I watched two bird feeders being merrily ransacked by more types of birds than I’ve ever seen in one place. It reminded me that I had once wanted a bird feeder–partly for the birds, and partly to provide “TV” for our indoor cats, or Kitty Convicts, as I like to call them. They really love watching the birdbath out the window. I imagined a bird feeder would be doubly exciting. After doing some window shopping and reading, though, I convinced myself that any bird feeder I bought would just end up feeding our pernicious tribe of squirrels, so I gave up the idea, figuring that in our climate, the bird bath was more critical to the birds.

So, with this in the back of my mind, I asked head gardener, Richard Hayden, how the staff kept squirrels away from the bird feeders.  He said simply, “Thistle seed. There’s just thistle seed in there and squirrels don’t eat thistle seed.”


Some things become so easy once you get the right information. We just have to buy a feeder built to hold thistle seed. Which we’re doing.

Kitty TV just got a new channel.

Leave a comment


  1. I think it is funny that you would get a bird feeder to amuse/torture your cats. It seems there would be sufficient motivation to escape in order to ‘interact’ with the birds at the feeder.

  2. My Aunt used to have a good way of squirrel-proofing her bird feeder: she greased the pole, so the squirrels couldn’t climb up it. It was hilarious to watch.

  3. Our eastern squirrels have not gotten the message about thistle seed. Or else they like to use the feeders as a jungle gym. What we’ve learned is that the feeders have to be far enough away from any launching pads – like a fence or tree. Then that squirrel baffle has a chance of being effective. Of course, not when it’s under snow.

  4. Look for nyger seed that comes with a little “sock”. Even full it’s not heavy and you can hang it almost anywhere.

    We’ve had flocks of goldfinches. …tho they always seem ready to migrate somewhere else just as they begin to develop their lovely yellow feathers. ::sigh::

  5. Thistle seed sounded weird, but once I saw it’s also known as Nyger seed I realized it’s really common here. I didn’t realize squirrels don’t like it.

    • I am told that all nyger that comes into the country has had to be sterilized by law. I was told because I raised that question.

      As a matter of interest it’s the same seed that’s occasionally used in food production. I’ve had cheese with it. And I think it’s in some of the seed mixtures sold for baking. There is a third name used for it but I’m blanking on what it is. I think it comes from Indian cuisine in which it’s not uncommon.

      I must say I’ve never had a weed problem by my finch feeders. Other feeders, yes, I’m sad to say but the finch feeders, no.

  6. wait, if it’s been sterilized, it’s dead, right? Are we sure that feeding birds dead seeds is a good thing – isn’t that like fast food, all denatured and kind of the opposite of, say, a fodder system for domesticated birds?

  7. Problem solving is good to keep Alzheimer’s at bay. Trying to keep the squirrels out of our bird feeders has kept my husband mulling, and reworking the feeders for years. My sister bought him a t shirt at Christmas that has a squirrel on it and the words “Squirrel Whisperer”. We spend a good deal of money on wild bird seed. Thistle is expensive. Enjoyed this post. Thank you.

  8. We’ve used that style of squirrel baffle for years. Works well if they can’t jump to the top of it, or the snow isn’t seventeen freaking feet deep! (Yes, in Michigan. Really it’s only about 2 feet now. At least we don’t have earthquakes.)

  9. I was told that Squirrels can’t stand capsaicin and that birds can’t detect it. I coated my bird seed in hot sauce, let it dry, and then put it in the feeders. The red-lipped squirrels said “Ole!” to me as they gobbled up the hot seed. I’m doubtful of any claims that “squirrels don’t like…”

    I did get a Squirrel Buster bird feeder about three years ago, and I LOVE it!!! http://squirrelbusterbirdfeeder.com/ The squirrels (and rock doves, robins, and other heavy birds) will still go under the feeder to pick up what the birds have discarded. But the feeder itself will have up to six birds on it, and it’s been lovely to watch them.

  10. Thanks for the tip! I’ve been discouraged because my feeders aren’t squirrel proof and I can’t afford to keep them stocked, nor pay the lofty price of the “squirrel proof” feeders.

    I’ll try the thistle! I wonder if it attracts different birds than the black oil sunflower seed I was buying?

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