It's a hot debate - add heat to the seed to defeat the squirrels or no? Does it hurt the birds?
A wise man I know, whose name is Doug McRae, said more than once to me, if you feed the birds, you better get used to squirrels!
Squirrels, and their mildly cuter counterparts, chipmunks, tend to be the bane of existence for many people who feed the birds. For as much joy as they gather in feeding the birds, their blood pressure rises with the daily war they rage against these charming rodents who are hell bent on getting to the seed laid out for the birds.
Since owning The Birdhouse, I've been party to toe curling tales like razor wire covered poles to prevent the squirrels from getting to their seed. It's been shocking if not eye opening! I love feeding birds, and I don't like the squirrels getting everything, but I inherently understand that they're just trying to survive out there too.
There are easy mechanical ways to keep these critters away from your bird food, but there has been a lot of debate about bird food laced with capsaicin or hot peppers to keep them gone. A few of the larger bird seed companies have gone so far as to prepare it for their customers, in both seed and suet form.
Here are the problems I have with this.
1. It literally hurts the animal who consumes this. Like humans, squirrels, chipmunks and other rodents have pain receptors from stem to stern that react to heat that this organic compound provides. When food is plentiful elsewhere, the animal is likely to sniff, taste test and move on, who has time for pain? But when food is scarce, the animal is more likely to consume it out of desperation and in larger quantities. They can actually get used to it as far as their pain receptors go. If they consume too much of it, it can actually kill them. I kind of run with the policy of do no harm, and this doesn't quite cut it for me.
2. While studies have been done in rats and mice (Department of Hygiene and Preventive Medicine, Niigata University School of Medicine, Japan) on capsaicin toxicity, and on Capsaicin invoked hypothermia the argument stands that it doesn't hurt birds because birds don't have the same pain receptors that rodents do. However, it's because it's NOT studied yet, that we need to be incredibly careful in offering capsaicin in bird food because of what we DON'T know. We can extrapolate to a certain degree with the hypothermia study, that capsaicin can lower body heat, and in the dead cold of January, February, do you really want to risk lowering a cardinal, in it's 2oz body's ability, to self regulate their body temperature?
3.Consider too, the investment in the proper feeders and equipment is a one time investment, where hot pepper laden food is more expensive over the long term to continue to supply.
If you are waging war against the squirrels in your yard, please just come in and ask us how to manage them and protect your bird seed. We've got multiple solutions in mind that don't involve harming any of the nature outside of our doors. Some just make the squirrels work extra hard in getting the seed, or can even be quite entertaining in the viewing of the foiling of their efforts! Brome Squirrel Proof Feeders are brilliant at their jobs, caged feeders can certainly help, and switching up the feed can make them lose their interest.
And sometimes, as Doug implied at the beginning, embracing the squirrels can go a long way to lowering your blood pressure.