Years ago we began to but up bird feeders in our back yard. We planned that they would be exclusively for our avian friends. No other critters were invited to the banquet. After all, we couldn’t feed the whole wildlife community. The problem was that it didn’t work that way.
The birds quickly found our source of black oil sunflower and other seeds and from their response, they held us in high esteem. Obviously, they notified all their feathered friends and relatives.
All was well for some time. Then one day I noticed that a feeder was pushed in on one side and all the seed was gone. The damage was easily repaired and the feeder refilled. A few days later I found the side of the feeder broken out entirely and the seed again cleaned out. A close examination showed claw marks on the support post.
We have motion-detecting lights in the backyard and late one evening the lights near the feeder came on, and there was the culprit. A chubby raccoon sitting under the feeders, greedily examining them, his beady eyes glinting with desire. And that pudgy little freeloader was a great climber. Hooking his claws into the support pole he shinnied right up with no problem.
The answer, I decided, was simple. I wrapped the wooden feeder post with aluminum flashing, stapled it in place and connected an inexpensive electric fence charger to it. Fence chargers produce pulses of electricity that are extremely unpleasant, but not dangerous. If you’ve ever touched an electric fence, you know it’s not something you want to do twice.
The morning after the electrical upgrade I found a new set of muddy ‘coon tracks on the bottom of the aluminum, but no feeder damage. The next night another muddy print evidenced that the hard-headed little burglar tried it from the other side of the pole. Zap! ‘Coons may be good acrobats, but they are a little thick-headed. Anyway, it was goodbye raccoons. Our local squirrels quickly got the message, too.
Then the damage started again, and was even more severe. This time there were deer tracks underneath the feeders. Surveillance showed that Bambi and his friends would stand on their hind legs, with their forelegs resting on the feeder cross bar, and smash the feeder into kindling to get to the seed.
Our final step was to cover the cross piece with aluminum and run wires to it from the electrified lower sheathing. The metal hanging feeder is also wired. After smoothing out the dirt under the feeder, we waited to see what would happen. The evidence was quick in coming. One set of deer tracks in the dirt, and no damage. I’d sure like to have seen the reaction when the deer’s legs hit the top bar.
Since this last system upgrade, we never lost a seed to non-avian munchers, and that includes squirrels. The deer, squirrels, and ‘coons occasionally eat spilled seed on the ground that the birds kick out of the feeders, but they give the feeder post and cross arm a wide berth.
We also sheathed the posts supporting our bluebird nest boxes after the raccoons climbed them, eating eggs and young hatchlings.
Incidentally, the birds are not bothered by the electricity for the same reason they can safely sit on bare metal power lines. They aren’t grounded. The unwanted moochers are a different matter. With their back feet on the ground and front on the aluminum they provided a great circuit for a shocking experience. The only birds that would have trouble would be ostriches, emus, or “Big Bird,” and so far we don’t have any of those here.
I know this all seems sort of unkind, but the thieving varmints deserve what they get. And, that’s the way it is in this part of the fields and forests of East Texas.
Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click firstname.lastname@example.org to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.