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Q: I put out peanuts for blue jays but lately they’ve been failing to take them. My husband has seen the jays being chased away by orioles and sometimes catbirds. Have you heard of such a thing before?
A: I don’t think I’ve ever heard of blue jays being intimidated by smaller birds. I wonder if the jays could be young birds who don’t know yet that they’re bigger than orioles and catbirds and don’t need to fear them. I’ll bet the dynamic will shift fairly soon and at the very least, the orioles and catbirds will migrate away this fall.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for keeping squirrels out of bird feeders? I’m just about ready to give up.
A: I perfectly sympathize with your wish to keep squirrels out of your feeders. They can cause so much damage, and while they’re jumping at or sitting in feeders the birds stay away. I’d like to suggest a feeding system that should work perfectly, although it does require an initial investment. We’ve had this kind of system going in my back yard for 20 years and have never, ever had a squirrel in the feeders.
Here’s what you need, in terms of hardware:
• A shepherd’s hook — a pole with two or three arms sticking out (get the 8-foot kind).
• A squirrel baffle for the pole — we use the metal “witch’s hat” kind, but some folks modify a garbage can lid to fit around their pole.
• For finch feeders, a tall pole that a tube feeder can be screwed into, plus a baffle guard for the pole.
Place the pole in a spot where you can see it from the house (so you can enjoy your visitors), at least 15 feet from any kind of structure or tree — squirrels can jump quite high, and don’t forget, they can drop down from branches, too. If you’ve put the pole out in a spot where squirrels can’t jump or drop into the feeders, and you’ve added a squirrel baffle, so they can’t climb the pole, then you should have a squirrel-free system. Hang feeders from the hooks and sit back and enjoy the birds. Squirrels will still visit to glean the seeds that drop to the ground, but they won’t be able to get into your feeders. You can find these products at wild bird supply stores, garden stores or on the Web.
St. Paul resident Val Cunningham, who volunteers with the St. Paul Audubon Society and writes about nature for local, regional and national newspapers and magazines, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.