squirrel hanging upside down across bird feeder

The Battle of the Bird Feeder

Posted by Jim Mize on August 26, 2019

For all those who fight the never-ending battle of the bird feeder, Jim Mize shares his harrowing story of how he managed to outsmart an entire forest of hungry omnivores (and you can too).

Feeding birds and watching them is a passion shared by many. Relaxing, educational and entertaining, this hobby brings year-round enjoyment. But...when wildlife other than the feathered variety sets their sights on your feeder, bird feeding can become a competition. 

Back in the spring, I moved into a cabin surrounded by state park land and one wilderness area.  Bears, bobcats, and coyotes roamed these woods. At night, owl hoots carried through the darkness. Hawks drifted through the trees hunting. 

Knowing that a number of animals might be tempted by a bird feeder, I set out to make it critter-proof

Downy woodpecker feeding from a bird feeder

The bird feeder hangs outside my writing-office window, a pleasant distraction when my brain freezes temporarily and no words come out. That end of the cabin is fifteen feet off the ground due to the mountain slope, and a red maple branch grows a few feet from the window. It feels like sitting in a deer stand with limbs around and an elevated view.

My first attempt with the feeder was to hang it high enough in the maple that a bear couldn’t reach it from the ground. 

Small black bear eating out of a bird feeder

After all, it works for suspended food on backpack trips. So I bought a plumb, tossed it over the limb with the string tied to the bird feeder cord and pulled the feeder up to the level of the window. My bird feeder was a squirrel-proof model, and I clipped a suet feeder in just above it to attract woodpeckers.

The squirrels tested it first.squirrel attempting to eat from a bird feeder

Jumping from the limb to the feeder, they grabbed the feeder and swung precariously in wide circles while trying to figure out how to get the sunflower seeds out.

Since the feeder automatically closed, the squirrels learned this contraption wasn’t worth the effort.

I suspected a raccoon was making an attempt at the feeder and this was confirmed one afternoon while I was working. Glancing out at the feeder, I was eye-level with the bandit and watched him hang off the limb while trying to pull up the feeder. Luckily, it was too heavy and he gave up.

After two weeks, another prowler took a successful crack at it. 

One night, a bear went up the maple and stole the suet feeder. I never found it. After buying another suet feeder, I ran both feeders farther out on the maple limb thinking it might be out of the bear’s reach. It wasn’t. 

This time, however, I did manage to follow the tracks through the woods and retrieve both the sunflower-seed feeder and the suet feeder, both emptied of all food.

Going yet further out the limb, I moved the feeder about eight feet from the nearest tree. The bear came back and tried to reach it by climbing the maple and the limb holding the feeder. Luckily, the latest adjustment worked. The bear managed to claw the limb but not break it.  

Finally, I had a secure feeder. Or so I thought.

flying squirrel at night on a tree limb

One night while sitting at my computer, I heard the feeder rattling. Thinking the bear had returned, I grabbed my camera and a flashlight and opened the window by the feeder. Four flying squirrels were quickly consuming all the sunflower seeds. They were not heavy enough to trigger the closing mechanism and were having a feast.  

These squirrels could run up and down the cord with great agility. Once they had fed, they coasted back to the tree trunk and began again.

By morning, the feeder was empty. 

I had no clue how to make it flying-squirrel proof so now I simply lower it at dusk and put it back in the basement.

For two or three nights, the flying squirrels returned and ran up and down the tree.  Finally, with a few unsuccessful nights checking the feeder they took this stop off their nightly routine.

The battle of the bird feeder ended in a draw, but I had clearly met my match.  Some critters just have too much skill and agility when it comes to food.


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Jim Mize

Jim Mize has written humor and nostalgia for magazines including Gray's Sporting Journal, Fly Fisherman Magazine, Field & Stream, and a number of conservation magazines, picking up over fifty Excellence In Craft awards along the way. His most recent book, a collection of humor for fly fisherman entitled A Creek Trickles Through It, was awarded best outdoor book in 2014 by the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. More on Jim and his writing activities can be found at acreektricklesthroughit.com

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