Squirrels are surging into gardens

No.:  2012-40
October 2012

The last few weeks have seen Grey Squirrels pile into gardens. With reports of patchy seed and nut crops in the countryside this autumn, these dextrous and divisive garden guests are turning to bird feeders.

Grey Squirrel by Brian Todd

Keep an eye on your bird food - squirrels are coming

Keep an eye on your bird food – squirrels are coming! Householders who record garden wildlife through the year-round British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Garden BirdWatch survey have revealed a big influx of Grey Squirrels over recent weeks. Garden use is currently up by a third compared with the same period in 2009–2011.

Seed and nut availability appears to be patchy in the countryside this autumn, leaving wildlife in search of alternative food. For Grey Squirrels, as well as for birds, garden bird feeders provide a nutritious fix. While some householders welcome squirrels into their gardens, others consider them to be pests that chomp through expensive bird food and feeders.

BTO research shows that many bird species, such as Jay, Coal Tit and Nuthatch, turn to gardens in greater numbers when seeds, such as beechmast, are scarce during autumn and winter. It is, therefore, possible that there will be increased competition at garden feeders over the coming months, not only between birds but also between birds and Grey Squirrels.

Dr Tim Harrison, BTO Garden BirdWatch, commented: “Expect some fireworks at garden feeders this autumn and winter. Large numbers of birds are already gathering, with species such as Chaffinch and Starling being joined by their Continental cousins. Even the colourful Brambling has been spotted at garden feeding stations, which is remarkably early in the year for this seed-eating winter visitor.”

He continued: “With many more Grey Squirrels than normal also on the scene, competition may be intense. Unlike many other small mammals, Grey Squirrels do not hibernate and so they will be looking for food throughout the winter. To help ensure that garden birds get enough to eat, householders should keep their feeders topped up, provide a range of foraging options and consider using squirrel deterrents.”

BTO’s top tips if you wish to deter squirrels from bird feeders:

  1. Guard – use metal cages through which small birds can pass to access bird food but adult squirrels and larger birds are excluded.
  2. Gravity – spring-loaded bird feeders use a squirrel’s own body weight to close up the feeding ports when it comes to eat.
  3. Baffle – domes attached to feeder poles/strings can be effective. Vaseline on smooth feeder poles might also help to give squirrels the slip.
  4. Distract – create a separate feeding area for squirrels away from your bird feeders where they can easily get food.
  5. Spice things up – chilli powder dusted onto bird food will help turn up the heat on your furry guests, without bothering your birds.

Help chart the fortunes of birds, squirrels and other garden wildlife through the BTO Garden BirdWatch project. For a free enquiry pack email gbw [at] bto.org or telephone 01842-750050.

Notes for Editors

  1. Discover more about Grey Squirrels and their recent surge into gardens.
  2. The BTO Garden BirdWatch is the only nationwide survey of garden birds to run weekly throughout the year, providing important information on how birds use gardens, and how this use changes over time. Currently, some 14,500 people take part in the project. The project is funded by participants’ contributions and is the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world. For more information see www.bto.org/gbw
  3. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research organisation. Over thirty thousand birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys. They collect information that forms the basis of conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Norfolk,  Stirling and Bangor, who analyse and publicise the results of project work. The BTO's investigations are funded by government, industry and conservation organisations. www.bto.org

Contact Details

Tim Harrison
(BTO Garden BirdWatch Development Officer)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: tim.harrison [at] bto.org

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at] bto.org

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Please contact images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2012-40

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