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How Pepper Suet Can Keep Squirrels Away From Your Suet Bird Feeder

Updated on January 18, 2017

Suet Bird Feeders

When winter comes we do our best to keep the bird feeder stocked to help our local birds get through the wintertime. One of the favorite types of bird feeders to put out is a suet bird feeder. The advantages to suet feeders are that since suet is a rendered form of fat, it has a lot of calories and is a great high energy source of food for the birds in your yard. The disadvantage is that the squirrels in your yard know this as well, and will go to great lengths to get at your suet feeder. This has created a small industry for every type of squirrel proof feeder imaginable. But in this case, you may be better off without some sort of mechanical contraption, as nature has supplied a good way to deal with the problem of squirrels and suet feeders. Here's a look at using pepper suet.

Front yard feeder.  Teen age woodpecker.
Front yard feeder. Teen age woodpecker.

Squirrel Proof Feeders

Squirrel proofing a bird feeder can be a tough job. Many types of squirrel proof feeders have been invented over the years, but you will find that most of them concentrate on having some type of physical block to the access of the feeder. This might be a squirrel baffle on the pole, or one over the top of the feeder where it hangs. Some have a small trap door over the access to an enclosed platform feeder, activated by the weight of the squirrel. One of the more popular ideas these days is a tube style feeder that will spin when something as large as a squirrel starts to hang on it. And there are always the caged feeders to keep squirrels and large birds out. Pepper bird suet feeders take advantage of some of nature's design to keep the squirrels away without the need for all that mechanical design.

To help our birds through the winter months, we look for those types of food that will benefit them the most, and a common choice is suet. With the berries and other vegetation dormant for the winter, and what little is available is often covered by snow or ice, food sources can be difficult to find. On top of that, birds are warm-blooded creatures, and need the extra calories in the cold to have their bodies generate the heat to keep them alive. So, they get the double whammy of a limited food supply just when they need it the most. No wonder many of them go south for the winter!

Why Suet?

Suet is favored because it is a high calorie, high energy source of food. Suet is a form of rendered fat which makes it a great source of energy. It's made by rendering the fat from animal products like beef. Sometimes it's mixed with other food products such as peanuts to make a high fat, high protein food. Some naturally rendered suet can go bad and turn rancid at warm temperatures so many people will only use it as a cold weather food. But there are artificially rendered suet cakes that can take the summer heat in some northern areas, so if you want you can use it most of the year. Suet comes in a few different forms for feeders, the more common is the suet cake that is about the size of a sandwich and is put in a small cage feeder. These cages are inexpensive and hang freely off a branch. The other common way to use suet cakes is with a platform feeder that has cages attached to the sides. This allows you to serve up multiple types of bird food in one feeder platform, with the bird seed on the platform and the suet on the sides of the feeder. The other popular type is the suet ball, which can be hung on its own from a branch to feed the birds without a feeder.

Capcaisin - The Magic Ingredient

It's only fair that squirrels want to feed on suet as much as birds. They are natures scavengers, and free food hanging near a tree is just what they are looking for. They can tear through a suet cake in short order. So if you don't want to invest in one of those mechanical squirrel proof designs, there is good news. Nature has come up with its own solution that is ingeniously simple. Over many thousands of years, peppers have adapted to include capsaicin in their fruit, which is the chemical that gives all peppers their heat (this content is how peppers are rated for heat). Birds are not sensitive to it at all and will eat fruit that contains capcaisin without any problems. However, mammals (squirrels included in this) find the heat of peppers offensive, and will avoid eating it.

So nature's solution for keeping pesky rodents and squirrel away from bird feeders is to put some pepper in the suet food cakes and balls. With pepper suet the birds are oblivious, but your yard scavengers don't go near it. You don't need all the complexity of many feeders, but just a more Zen-like solution of adding a touch of seasoning, if you will.

Jalapeno peppers contain capcaisin
Jalapeno peppers contain capcaisin

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