Tips to discourage unwanted wildlife guests


With bird seed prices at record highs, resentment toward unwanted visitors at backyard feeders is likely to increase this winter. Who wants to spend nearly a dollar a pound for seed to feed deer, squirrels and pigeons?

If you’re willing to pay any price to feed any critter that visits the backyard, you can stop reading now. But if you’d prefer to minimize the food eaten by uninvited guests, here are some tips.


My biggest problem is white-tailed deer. They know the sound of seeds filling feeders and respond like Pavlov’s dogs. Five minutes after I fill my feeders, four to six deer invariably appear.

The problem is that when deer are at the feeders, birds are not. And I prefer to see birds, not deer, enjoying the food. Some even stand on their hind legs to reach hanging feeders. It’s amazing how they work their tongue into all but the tiniest of seed ports.

Furthermore, after eating all the bird seed, deer often help themselves to valuable shrubbery. Short of protecting the entire yard with an electric fence, which is probably the best solution, get a dog. A backyard dog is great at keeping deer, cats, and other night stalkers at bay. Just hope it does its job without barking all night long. Better still, take feeders down at night or hang them too high for deer to reach.


Black bears are becoming increasingly common across their range and if they find feeders, there’s no denying them. Until they retire to their dens for the winter, take down all feeders at night or simply wait until mid-December to fill the feeders.


Squirrels love sunflower seeds, nuts and corn, so it’s easy to understand why they find bird feeders attractive. You can make feeders squirrel-resistant (as opposed to squirrel-proof) by placing a metal baffle below pole mounted feeders or a domed squirrel guard above hanging feeders.

Some cleverly designed feeders successfully keep squirrels at bay, so ask for suggestions at your favorite wild bird store or nature center. And remember, fox squirrels and gray squirrels can jump 5 feet vertically and as far as 10 feet horizontally.

My favorite solution to a squirrel problem is to bait them away from the feeding area with corn.


Pigeons are the bane of many city dwellers who feeds birds. The simple solution is to physically exclude the pigeons. Tubes with small perches, perchless bowl-style feeders,] and feeders enclosed in wire cages are ideal. Pigeons are simply too big and clumsy to use such feeders. Of course, they will still eat the food that falls to the ground.

To shut pigeons out completely, build a frame of 2-by-2-inch lumber about 12 inches high and large enough to cover the entire area beneath the feeders. Then cover the frame with chicken wire. Finches, juncos, and other small birds will easily pass through the chicken wire, while pigeons, grackles, starlings, blue jays, mourning doves, and even squirrels will be fenced out.


Bird-eating hawks eventually discover bird feeders, where they help themselves to finches, juncos, and an occasional cardinal, blue jay, or dove. Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks eat birds almost exclusively, so their presence adds a whole new dimension to the term “bird feeder.”

This is nature at work. If you can’t appreciate predation, at least respect it. Hawks must eat, too, and if they take a few feeder birds, that’s life … and death. To minimize hawk predation, make sure there is some vegetation within 4 or 5 feet of the feeders so birds can take cover when predators appear.


Finally, there are the neighborhood cats. They can’t help themselves. Each year, domestic and feral cats kill tens of millions of song birds. Reduce the carnage by placing feeders at least 4 or 5 feet from dense vegetation where cats can wait in ambush.

And try sprinkling the area beneath your feeders with hot pepper powder, which can be bought in bulk. Cats, being the fastidious creatures they are, get a “hot tongue” when they clean their feet after walking through the pepper and quickly learn to avoid the area.


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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at or contact him directly at or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.



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