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Battle of the bird feeders as poor crops bring food competitors into the garden

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 01, 2012

Grey squirrels do not hibernate, so will be looking for food during winter. To help ensure garden birds such as this robin get enough to eat, householders should keep feeders topped up

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The cold snap has sent grey squirrels surging into gardens to raid bird feeders, the British Trust for Ornithology reports.

Patchy seed and nut crops in the countryside this autumn has prompted these dextrous and divisive garden guests to become even more brazen in their hunt for food.

And the BTO advice is "keep an eye on your bird food – squirrels are coming!"

The charity reports that householders who record garden wildlife through the year-round BTO Garden BirdWatch survey have noted a big influx of grey squirrels over recent weeks. Garden use is currently up by a third compared with the same period in 2009–2011.

For grey squirrels, as well as for birds, garden bird feeders provide a nutritious fix. While some householders welcome squirrels into their gardens, others consider them to be pests that chomp through expensive bird food and feeders.

BTO research shows that many bird species, such as jay, coal tit and nuthatch, turn to gardens in greater numbers when seeds, such as beechmast, are scarce during autumn and winter. It is, therefore, possible that there will be increased competition at garden feeders over the coming months, not only between birds but also between birds and grey squirrels.

Dr Tim Harrison, BTO Garden BirdWatch, commented: "Expect some fireworks at garden feeders this autumn and winter. Large numbers of birds are already gathering, with species such as chaffinch and starling being joined by their continental cousins. Even the colourful brambling has been spotted at garden feeding stations, which is remarkably early in the year for this seed-eating winter visitor."

He continued: "With many more grey squirrels than normal also on the scene, competition may be intense. Unlike many other small mammals, grey squirrels do not hibernate and so they will be looking for food throughout the winter. To help ensure that garden birds get enough to eat, householders should keep their feeders topped up, provide a range of foraging options and consider using squirrel deterrents."

BTO's top tips to deter squirrels from bird feeders:

Guard – use metal cages through which small birds can pass to access bird food but adult squirrels and larger birds are excluded.

Gravity – spring-loaded bird feeders use a squirrel's own body weight to close up the feeding ports when it comes to eat.

Baffle – domes attached to feeder poles/strings can be effective. Vaseline on smooth feeder poles might also help to give squirrels the slip.

Distract – create a separate feeding area for squirrels away from your bird feeders where they can easily get food.

Spice things up – chilli powder dusted onto bird food will help turn up the heat on your furry guests, without bothering your birds.

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  • ReeceFowler  |  November 13 2012, 8:04PM

    I agree with bullocks400. Lethal control is the best method. Not everyone is able to do this, but if you are able to use lethal control, by all means do so. Never put out extra food for squirrels. Grey squirrels eat bird food, which costs money, and now people feed the grey squirrels to solve the problem, which costs money. You're still spending money because of squirrels. Feeding just draws in other squirrels and in the long run can make a problem worse. There is good evidence that grey squirrels can impact on bird populations through nest predation, so it's not just bird food and feeders you'll be protecting.

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  • bullocks400  |  November 01 2012, 6:53PM

    You seem to have missed the obvious solution to grey squirrels. Kill as many as possible, they are a terrible and destructive pest. They destroy countless trees, they will attack birds nests and generally do harm to our environment. What do you expect from a tree rat?

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