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Ask Extension: Is it OK to use red pepper in bird seed as squirrel deterrent?

Squirrels are constantly eating the seed I put out for birds in the winter. I have read one way to discourage squirrels is to add chili powder to birdseed. Is this safe for birds?

Female cardinal in bare tree branches.

Squirrels are important, but frustrating animals in our ecosystem - and clever too! They're pretty smart when it comes to stealing birdseed from backyard birdfeeders. Stopping this bad habit can be tricky, but what might keep the squirrels away could also hurt the birds you want to attract.

On the Audubon website, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology notes that the capsicum in hot pepper can affect birds' eyes. Pets that root around in the fallen seed also may be negatively affected by the hot pepper.

Instead, the Humane Society recommends:

  • Use a large plastic dome called a baffle to block squirrel access to feeders.
  • Look for exclusion-type bird feeders.
  • Modify the birdseed mix. 
    • Squirrels are not attracted to safflower seed (for cardinals, chickadees, titmice) or nyjer thistle (for goldfinches). 
    • Also, a birdseed mixture with a majority of white proso millet seed is not a squirrel favorite yet satisfies the hunger of mourning doves and house finches.

Tip: The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also has excellent recommendations on specific foods for various winter birds.

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