Outwitting Squirrels: one of the funniest books I've ever read

 Images G 01 Ciu 61 17 1Fd59833E7A0B38F97262110.L In the introduction to his book, Outwitting Squirrels, Bill Adler recounts attaching a suction-cup-mounted bird feeder to the window of his apartment. The next day he was treated to a colorful spectacle of "beautiful birds with beautiful songs coming to my window every handful of seconds." In a single day he saw a "sunset-red cardinal, two doves, a couple of finches, a chickadee, a tufted titmouse, a warbler, a junco, and a white-breasted nuthatch."

But shortly afterwards, "something happened that changed my world forever. It inspired a quest that has been driving me for nearly two year; the same quest that motivates eighty million other Americans. That February afternoon, I returned from an errand, opened my door and saw a squirrel in my feeder. My birdfeeder! The whole squirrel -- tail and everything -- was inside the feeder, a rectangular lucite compartment attached to my window with suction cups. Nothing has been the same since."

Adler then goes on to describe his various and increasingly desperate attempts to keep squirrels from raiding his birdfeeder. He "stood guard" over the feeder, banging the window whenever the squirrel approached, but the animal soon learned to ignore the noise and eat the seeds anyway. He tried opening the window and screaming at the squirrel, which worked, but as soon as Adler walked away the squirrel seized the opportunity and returned.

Determined to outwit the squirrel, Adler studied its behavior. He noticed that the squirrel had to climb a brick wall to get to the feeder. Adler went to the hardware store to buy a can of liquid Teflon. "With the glee of a sixteen-year-old on prom night, I coated the walls around and below the air conditioner [which the squirrel jumped from to land on the bird feeder] with a visible film of Teflon." The stratagem worked: "The first squirrel that leapt onto the Teflon-coated brick was as surprised as I was overjoyed. The moment his claws caught the Teflon-coated surface he scrambled furiously to keep hold, his little legs moving rapidly in circles, as if he were being chased by a cat. It was a fun, funny, fantastic sight."

The Teflon worked, until it rained, and Adler was back to square one. He described a number of other methods he employed in his attempt to outwit the enemy (which soon gained his grudging respect as a highly intelligent, resourceful combatant) but the squirrel outsmarted him every time. I tried reading parts of the book out loud to my wife, but I was laughing so hard I couldn't talk. I just handed the book to her and managed to squeak, "Read it."

Eventually the human won over the squirrel, and the rest of the book is devoted to descriptions of various squirrel-foiling contraptions and their efficacy.

Outwitting Squirrels: 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels


  1. Sounds like a great book Mark, I’d be curious to know what Adler thinks about the feeders which are basically a plastic tube surrounded by a spring loaded metal cage.

    When squirrel puts his weight on the cage, it slides down so that metal plates cover the seed ports. Squirrel jumps off, spring pulls the cage back up to open the ports.

    We have three of these and they work great to keep squirrels out.

    Now, if you have -raccoons- hitting your feeders at night it is a whole different story. If there is something short of a tactical nuke which will work, I haven’t found it yet……

    1. Re: Raccoons

      oooh, I can help!! If you’re willing to hang your feeders from a tree limb (if you’ve got trees), do this:
      1. vinyl coated clotheseline rope– as much as you would need to double-loop over a your tree limb.
      2. 6 foot length of 1.5-2″ PVC pipe (or to length you’ll need – see step 4 below for more detail)
      3. large 1.5″ washer
      4. large S-hook sufficient to hold your feeder

      How To:
      1. Measure wire to the length you’ll need to throw it over the limb, and be able to hang your bird feeder from – double this amount.
      2. (optional step) Tie knot at ends of wire (not too tight) – you now have a circle. Having the knot makes the next step easier.
      3. Throw knot over limb, and run through the circle. Pull taut. Wire is now hanging from tree limb.
      4. If you’ve tied the knot, untie it and run the ends of the wire through it until it comes out the other end. You want a long enough piece of PVC so that the coon can’t just hop off the branch and on to the feeder.
      5. Run ends of wire through washer and retie knot so that it doesn’t slip through washer hole.
      6. Attach S-hook and then feeder to S-hook

      It’s not beautiful, but it’s effective. We had two of our feeders destroyed last year by three different coon families and this year, since we’ve done this, not a lick of problems. I’ll see if I can’t get a photo of them tonight. The coons can’t seem to hang on to the larger diameter PVC pipe to climb down to the feeder. The washer keeps the pipe from sliding down over the S-hook and falling off every time you take the feeder down to fill it.

      We have our feeders hanging from a limb that is about 10-12 feet off the ground in a maple tree.

      1. Thanks MrsBug, I’ll think this one over and see if I can adapt it to our setup. Our feeders are attached to metal hangers that clamp to the deck railing – we have no trees closer than 75 feet to the house, would be too far away for bird watching….

    2. Raccoons are remarkably easy to capture in a “wire-box, swing-down-door” type trap. They can then be taken to a wilderness a few miles away & set free. I’ve enjoyed coon-less periods lasting a couple years this way. When they return, oil up the trap & bait it with . . . just about anything. Cat food seems to be the best. Good luck.

  2. I’m sorry, maybe it’s ’cause I’m not a homeowner, but I gotta side with the squirrels. Birds are okay. But I like squirrels better.

    1. For those who are not home owners: birds can offer so much for your personal eco-system, where-as I find squirrels can be an incredible nuisance. It’s not to say that birds can’t also be a nuisance (think grackle attacks, dove and pigeon poop, etc) but a squirrel much like any rodent, can cause you TONS of issues. They’re incredibly agile and great trouble solvers, but because of this, they can cause you many headaches not only for other animals in our eco-system, but also your own personal life.

  3. Our feeder has a cap on it to prevent things getting inside. We have many squirrels in our yard, but the cap keeps them out. Did he try a cap or just a different bird feeder? I mean, it’s a squirrel. Really. They’re not that smart. (Not the ones in my neighborhood anyways.)

    1. Your squirrels must have dull teeth. They will chew right through wood or plastic to get to their prized seeds.

    1. “Why not call it a “wildlife feeder” and not worry about who is eating?”

      Because the Squirrels will take over and frighten the birds away. And the point is not really to feed wildlife at all: it’s to watch the pretty birds and hear their chirps and think about the dinosaurs they used to be……


    2. Because the point of a bird feeder is not to magnanimously feed animals. The point is to attract pretty birds to look at and listen to.

      A squirrel will of course scare away all the birds, and the greedy little thing will eat all the seed in one sitting, seed that could have made for a bird social spot for 2 weeks.

      My mom tried putting pepper flakes in the seed – the birds don’t seem to mind – but eventually that just lead to squirrels with a taste for spicy foods.

    3. Because the squirrels are voracious eaters! A feeder that would satisfy the local birds for a week will be emptied, if not destroyed, by a squirrel in a day.

  4. Oh, Step #4 above should read: “…untie it and run the ends of the wire through the PVC pipe until it comes out the other end.

  5. Perhapes he can write a sequel about keep raccoons out of your garage. I’d buy that in a heart beat.

  6. Mix crushed red pepper in with the birdseed. Problem solved. Birds aren’t irritated by capsaicin the way mammals are.

  7. The old conventional feeder I had generally didn’t have a squirrel problem, at least not directly. Instead, a few sparrows would just shovel boatloads of sunflower seeds out onto the ground, and a zillion more sparrows (plus the squirrels) would have an all-day banquet.

    The new feeder is basically a tube of thick wire mesh, with some cone-shaped internal baffles to maintain relatively even seed distribution. This design only works with sunflower seeds, but that’s what I use anyway. The birds still get fed, the squirrels and chipmunks take care of seeds that get dropped, and a bag of seed lasts a lot longer now.

  8. Squirrels > birds. Birds steal my fruit (strawberries, cherries, &c.), then return it onto my car.

    Also: I’d be interested to learn more about the health and environmental impact of coating a wall with Teflon, that is then washed off in the rain.

    1. anybody got any “solution” for gophers? In SF?

      The Black Hole gopher trap. I was gopher-free less than five minutes from installation. Make sure to bury the dead gopher in the tunnel.

    2. anybody got any “solution” for gophers? In SF?

      Fenced yard? Australian Shepherd is all you need, mate ;-)

  9. The thing about squirrels is that they are ungracious little bastards. Getting up on to our bird feeder and eating some bird seed was not enough, they had to chew the whole side off of the feeder (thus ruining it) and eat ALL the seed.

    At our house we have one of those freestanding shepherd’s crook style poles, with a (now replaced) bird feeder hanging from it. Thanks to someone on a forum somewhere who suggested using a metal slinky toy, we have now (for the time being, anyway) baffled the neighborhood squirrel menace.

    The trick was to coil the slinky around the pole from the top (with a couple extra loops left up there to hold it up) so that it hangs down around the pole. Now when a squirrel jumps to grab hold of the pole, he instead grabs the slinky which drops him unceremoniously back on to the ground. I have to point out that this is not only effective, but really, really funny to watch. The squirrels then run off about 8 feet or so and just glare at the slinky, and after a couple tries each they seem to have given up.

  10. That book is a classic knee-slapper, whether or not you have a yard to worry about.

    Has he written a sequel? It’s been over 20 years, so you’d think he might of perfected SOMETHING in that time.

  11. We had various squirrel problems with our feeder, but I stunned at what finally worked. We got a clear plastic dome, which are pretty common, but this one doesn’t attach in a fixed fashion to the feeder. If a squirrel climbs onto it, the dome tips, and the squirrel loses his or her balance.

    The feeder has quite small perches, which drives the Stellar’s Jays crazy, as they can’t quite always get onto it. Other birds have no troubles.

    The squirrels now eat the leavings and spillage of the birds. I haven’t seen a squirrel try to climb onto the dome for a couple of years, which makes me think they educate each other about what makes sense to attempt.

  12. My grandfather had the simplest possible solution to this problem. He shot the squirrels. Whether he managed to get all the squirrels, or even get them every time they went after the feeder didn’t matter. Sooner or later the squirrels ballsy enough to go after the feeder simply got weeded out.

    1. I was about to say. A book? This would have been a diary entry for my grandfather.

      “Squirrels got into the bird feeder. Stew tonight.”

  13. “Eventually the human won over the squirrel, and…”
    That means the human got the squirrel to like him.
    Do you mean the human defeated the squirrel?
    Do you mean the human outsmarted the squirrel?

  14. I’ve just put this on my library hold list.

    It’s funny; earlier today I did a search on “funniest book ever” (I do this every now and then to find new reading material. Any suggestions?) and then this post comes up.

    My parents had a bird feeder at their cottage that they were trying to keep raccoons out of. Here’s what they came up with:

    1. Run a length of fishing line between two trees.
    2. Hang another length of fishing line from the middle of the first one.
    3. Halfway down the second piece of fishing line, hang an LP record with the fishing line going through the hole in the record.
    4. Have the bird feeder hanging at the bottom of the fishing line.

    The idea is that the record will get in the way of the raccoons climbing down; they won’t be able to get past it because it’ll tilt them off. Anyway, it didn’t work; I think my parents have a picture of a raccoon hanging off the top rope by its feet, the LP shouldered aside, and helping itself to everything in the bird feeder.

  15. If you have ever had a chance to catch World’s Craftiest Animals: Squirrels on TV you will see that they can basically outsmart everything and everyone! It is must-see TV!

  16. On the subject of gofers/moles I’ve found 2 things that work. A cat or dog (especially a terrier)will hunt the things out and get rid of them directly. But on a nicer note you can use loose hair combed out of the pets (or even hair collected after your own hair cut). Stuff it down the burrow. Whole wad of predator smell in their home tends to chase them off.

  17. My wife’s grandfather used to have a second bare metal wire run with the cable to hold the birdfeeder. The second wire ran back into the house and a two prong plug. When he saw feeder interlopers he hooked it up to household 110v and lit the squirrels up. I don’t think he ever killed one with it but it did provide a strong intermittent negative reinforcement. That was a couple of years back. He’s 99 now and still sharp as a tack. The electrocution rig was the endgame of a protracted escalating human-squirrel war.

  18. During brief period that I was a homeowner, I too had a squirrel/bird feeder problem. My feeder was mounted on a tall metal pole that didn’t deter the squirrel at all. In frustration, I coated the pole with grease and got a good laugh and fond memory as I watched the squirrel run and then leap onto the pole. It made at least three revolutions before letting go!

  19. I like skwerls.

    There’s this thing called a “Twirl-a-squirrel” which is a birdfeeder on a string attached to a motor and a weight sensor. Apparently it detects when there is too much weight added to the feeder (because of a squirrel), and the motor starts turning. Then the squirrel goes on a little ride before he gets spun off!

  20. i gave up trying to feed the birds separate from the squirrels along time ago– i just buy nothing but sunflower seeds, which the birds and squirrels both love, and throw it out on the ground in little piles for them. i’ll have 8 little piles, and i’ll see 5 squirrels, a dove, a cardinal and a blue jay all out there enjoying the seeds. im happy, they’re happy, its all good.

  21. “Mix crushed red pepper in with the birdseed. Problem solved. Birds aren’t irritated by capsaicin the way mammals are.”

    This so-called solution is a cruel one at best. You may as well be macing them – the capsaicin isn’t exactly targetable, it will go from their paws to eyes(and everywhere else). It would be kinder to shoot them(then at least you have local free range meat, as well). If you put food outside, you may as well be ready to accept whatever creatures show up to the buffet.

  22. Just the post about the book had me laughing until my spleen ached.

    My grandmother would have liked it. She loved birds and was so frustrated by squirrels wrecking her feeder.

    At some point, she commissioned me (I was about 8 at the time) to keep an eye out and gave me a whistle to scare any trespassing squirrel away. After a while, I was getting flustered because the squirrels got used to the sound and no longer ran away.

    A brazen one jumped on the feeder even with me in plain sight. I took the deepest breath and blew that whistle full force. In my anger, I blew faster than my hands could cover my ears so I couldn’t hear a thing for a couple of hours…

    But that squirrel FLEW back into the hedge like it got hit by a double-barreled shotgun.

  23. I love birds, but if I lived in a country that had squirrels I’m pretty sure I’d love them more.

  24. We have ground squirrels, which don’t seem terribly interested in bird feeders. The roadrunners, on the other hand, eat all the cat food. Or they fight it out with the raccoons for the cat food.

    if you have -raccoons- hitting your feeders at night it is a whole different story. If there is something short of a tactical nuke which will work, I haven’t found it yet…

    Have you tried chasing them across the yard while beating them with a stick?

  25. There’s only one thing that works and it only sometimes. There’s a commercial product called Squirrel Away, but all it really is is super duper hot capsicum. I found the best way to use it was to spray the seed with spray cooking oil and toss it in the hot pepper. Otherwise, it would sink to the bottom of the feeder and the next rain would turn it into hot concrete.

    It doesn’t bother the birds since they have essentially no sense of taste. In fact, botanists hypothesize that hot peppers evolved in the first place to insure that the seeds would be consumed by birds and not mammals, thus guaranteeing wide dispersal.

    But I’ve learned two things:

    1. Even capsaicin won’t work in the spring. Squirrels have about four litters over the course of a summer and the first one drops before there’s any food to eat. First time I ever peppered the seed, the squirrel jumped about 15 feet and started wiping his face on the ground. But in the spring, he gritted his teeth and forged ahead anyway.

    2. Be sure to wash your hands before going to the bathroom. That’s a feeling a guy ought never to have.

  26. My parents fought battles with squirrels for years.

    They stopped worrying about the squirrels once a bear climbed up the stairs and destroyed the feeder.

  27. Re: Comment #1 – Don’t get too smug with the weighted door closure on the metal feeder. It befuddled our squirrels for about a month until they cooperated by having one sit on the weighted side for a bit, allowing the co-conspirator access, then changing sides!

  28. Try juicyfruit gum. It kills the gophers – they return to their nests and expire underground.

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