May 31, 2017 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, June 2017

Ask Birdsqatch: Feeder Marauders

A raccoon raids a backyard bird feeder in Quebéc, Canada.

Dear Birdsquatch:

We love bird feeding in the summer months at our house. We recently moved from a home in town to one out on the edge of town, adjacent to some woods and large fields. One morning late this spring, after filling our feeders the evening before, I was astonished to see the feeders completely empty. Something had emptied them overnight. We never had this problem in town, so I'm guessing we're feeding some new creatures here in this more rural setting. Any ideas who or what it might be and what we can do to keep them from emptying our feeders?

—Jimbo Jackson, Cottage Corner, Ohio

Dear Jimbo,

This is the first time I've ever answered a bird question from someone named Jimbo. I've answered bird questions from folks named John Boy, Jambo, and Django, but never Jimbo. It's a cool name.

You are correct in your guess that you've got some new visitors. Now that you live in a place with more natural habitat and more habitat diversity, it's practically guaranteed that you're going to have more wildlife around you. I'm no ornithologist—in fact I'm just a simple sasquatch that loves birding—but I feel certain that the reason your feeders were emptied over night is not due to a bird. All the birds that eat seeds, nuts, or even suet/suet dough are daytime (or diurnal) foragers, meaning they seek their food during the daylight hours. There's a different guild of creatures that are out and about during the nighttime hours—and a few of these are prime suspects in this mystery.

From smallest to largest, here are a few of the likely perpetrators for your backyard crime: white-footed mouse, southern flying squirrel, striped skunk, Virginia opossum, raccoon, and white-tailed deer. All of these mammals are known to visit bird feeders at night to partake of the seeds and nuts and other yummies we offer. The mouse, opossum, and raccoon are all expert climbers, and can get up an unbaffled feeder pole and park themselves on a feeder for a gorging session. The flying squirrel and deer can also gain direct access to a feeder—even a baffled one (hint: one of these animals can fly). In my wanderings I've seen lots of feeding destroyed by mammalian visitors during the warmer months.

While I have never done this myself, I can tell you these destructive visits come during the season when mammals are taking care of ravenous young, and a bountiful source of food—like all the seed at your feeding station—simply can't be ignored. Just be happy that you don't have black bears in your neighborhood. While a raccoon might chew up or even steal your feeder, a bear will bend the pole over and completely destroy your feeding station.

There are three things you can do to foil feeder marauders:

1. Feed only as much food as your birds and daytime visitors will consume in one day. If your feeders are empty at night, there's no reason for anyone (including me) to stop by for a nosh.

2. Bring your feeders in at night and replace them in the morning. A bit labor-intensive, but very effective.

3. Suspend your feeders from poles that have a predator baffle—a barrier that prevents anyone or anything from climbing up the pole to get to the feeders. In order for this to be effective, you will need to place the baffled stations feeder poles far enough from trees, deck railings, outbuildings, clotheslines, trampolines, and other potential launching pads to prevent squirrels and others from leaping directly onto the feeder. My friends at Bird Watcher's Digest have easy baffle-making plans on their website. Check it out here »

In my experience, mice and flying squirrels will take some of your food, but not all of it. Skunks eat only what's on the ground and easily accessible. Opossums will climb to get to a feeder, but won't destroy or swipe the feeder. Raccoons are bad news for a feeder—they'll clean you out and steal the empty feeder. Deer will clean out a feeder if they can, but they won't destroy it. For bears and sasquatches, plan on taking the feeders in at night. To keep the sasquatches placated, it's a good idea to leave a whole pie out on the deck railing at least once a week. Squatches seem to like blueberry.

Jimbo, I hope this answers your question. Keep on feeding those birds, and I'll see you around.

About Birdsquatch

Birdsquatch is WBB's tall, hairy, and slightly stinky columnist. He is a bigfoot who has watched birds all his life. His home range is unknown.

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    by fluffypeanutcat, Tue, 25 Sep 2018
  • This is a good point. While cleaning mine, I kinda got the impression the cheep cheeps were waiting on me since they started chirping as soon as I brought it outside again. I swear they are so smart. Within five minutes of filling the feeder up, they are there to feast.cheers Cheep cheeps!
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 20 Jul 2018
  • Hahaha, I love the ending remark "that area will have already been well -fertilized!"I've noticed that there are more cheep cheeps right after I clean the bird feeder compared to how many there are right before it was cheep cheeps do like and appreciate a well maintained feeder and they are worth the effort. : )
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 20 Jul 2018
  • The storm saying seems true so far. We had as party at our bird feeder right before our last storm... 6 at once but different cheeps cheeps would come and go so there were more than 6 for sure..and squirrels eating with the birds
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 13 Jul 2018
  • I know and do clean my feeders both for seed and for hummingbird liquid. I have a vase full of different size brushes that are only for this purpose. I have friends however who NEVER clean their feeders or bird baths, and it’s gross! I am ringing this article and will have to give out to the few offenders I know. I can’t imagine looking at such mess and not cleaning it, but not everyone thinks resale. Part of responsible bird watching/loving is to make the time and take the effort to do this.
    by Carol, Tue, 10 Jul 2018