Will cayenne pepper keep squirrels away from bird feeders?

With their persistent foraging habits, squirrels can quickly become a frustrating presence for those who enjoy birdwatching and maintaining bird feeders in their backyard. These furry creatures have a knack for devouring birdseed, leaving little for the intended avian visitors and scattering it all over the ground. 

In searching for a simple yet effective solution, using cayenne pepper as a squirrel deterrent has gained popularity. But does this natural remedy truly live up to its claims?

How does cayenne pepper deter squirrels?

Cayenne pepper has been known to deter squirrels from bird feeders due to its active component, capsaicin. Capsaicin is the chemical compound responsible for the spicy sensation in chilis and is found in abundance in cayenne. When squirrels come into contact with birdseed treated with cayenne, the capsaicin irritates their skin and mucous membranes.

This irritation is the key to deterring these small mammals, as they find the experience uncomfortable and unpleasant. As a result, squirrels are less likely to consume birdseed treated with cayenne, reducing their presence around the bird feeders and allowing birds to feed undisturbed. By employing this natural solution, bird enthusiasts can create a more squirrel-resistant feeding environment that encourages abundant birds.

Does it actually work?

Yes, cayenne pepper has proven to be an effective squirrel deterrent. Commercial squirrel repellants often contain capsaicin as their primary active ingredient, making it a well-known choice for keeping squirrels away from bird feeders. Scientific studies have examined the use of capsaicin in deterring squirrels and other mammals from bird feeders, and the results have been promising.

One such study found that when bird feed was treated with capsaicin, squirrels reduced their feeding frequency and spent less time consuming the treated birdseed compared to non-capsaicin-treated bird feed (Chapman, 1996). While the studies don’t specifically mention using cayenne, a study utilized a 40,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units) capsaicin treatment (Curtis et al., 2000). It’s worth noting that cayenne typically falls within the range of 30,000 to 50,000 SHU, indicating that cayenne should be similarly effective in deterring squirrels.

Does cayenne or capsaicin hurt the birds?

Rest assured, cayenne and capsaicin are safe for birds in reasonable quantities. The research on capsaicin-treated bird seed has shown that birds are unaffected by its presence and did not reduce their feeding frequency (Chapman, 1996). In fact, capsaicin derived from capsicum annuum, which includes cayenne pepper, is utilized as a nutrient enhancement for commercial poultry with numerous benefits, including increasing body weight, improving digestion, and reducing heat stress, among others (Abd El-Hack et al., 2022).

Bird enthusiasts can take comfort in knowing that using cayenne-treated bird feed poses no harm to the birds visiting their feeders. The capsaicin is an effective deterrent for squirrels and other mammals, allowing the birds to enjoy their meals without adverse effects. With this natural and bird-friendly solution, homeowners can create an environment that welcomes beautiful birds while deterring pesky squirrels from monopolizing the bird feeders.

How to make homemade cayenne squirrel deterrent 

Making your own homemade cayenne squirrel deterrent is a straightforward process. Here’s a simple guide to follow:

How to treat your birdseed with cayenne powder:

  1. Take 1 pound of birdseed.
  2. Mix in 3 tablespoons of cayenne powder.
  3. Toss the birdseed and cayenne powder together until they are evenly distributed.

Homemade cayenne squirrel repellent spray:

  1. Fill a spray bottle with 1 quart (4 cups) of water.
  2. Add 2 teaspoons of cayenne powder to the water.
  3. Close the spray bottle tightly and shake it well to ensure proper mixing of the cayenne powder with water.
  4. Spray your bird seed and bird feeder with the capsaicin spray.

Important safety precautions: When working with cayenne and capsaicin, it’s essential to take some safety precautions:

  • Avoid inhaling the pepper powder or spray, as it can cause irritation to your respiratory system. Consider wearing a face mask while handling cayenne.
  • After handling cayenne, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly to prevent accidentally touching sensitive areas like your eyes or face, as capsaicin can cause discomfort if it comes into contact with these areas.

You can create an effective homemade cayenne squirrel deterrent by following these steps and safety measures. Use the treated bird seed in your feeders or apply the cayenne spray in areas where squirrels are a nuisance. With this natural repellent, you can encourage more peaceful coexistence between birds and squirrels, ensuring your bird feeders become a welcoming spot for delightful avian visitors.

Does it work with other peppers?

Indeed, cayenne is not the only type of pepper that can be used to deter squirrels from your bird feeder. Since capsaicin is a common component in most chili peppers, you can also explore other varieties.

Any chili powder or chili pepper spray can be a squirrel deterrent, given that it has enough capsaicin. Research has shown that capsaicin concentrated at 40,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units) is effective (Curtis et al., 2000). It’s important to note that peppers with milder heat levels may not be as potent in deterring squirrels. For instance, jalapeños, which tend to register around 10,000 SHU on the hotter end, may not provide the same level of effectiveness as cayenne.

However, it’s essential to exercise caution when using even hotter peppers than cayenne. While capsaicin is a useful squirrel deterrent, it can also cause discomfort to humans. Inhaling the powder of extremely hot peppers can lead to significant irritation and pain. To avoid this, handling and working with any pepper variety with care is advisable, possibly wearing a face mask to prevent inhalation.

Does cayenne also deter raccoons?

Rich in capsaicin, cayenne is an irritant to all mammals, which means it may also deter raccoons from bird feeders. While there is less research specifically focused on capsaicin’s effect on raccoons than squirrels, the general understanding of capsaicin’s irritant properties suggests that it could have a similar deterrent effect on raccoons.

One study conducted by Burke et al. in 2015 found that habanero pepper powder, which is considerably hotter than cayenne, was not effective at deterring raccoons from turtle nests. This finding may indicate that capsaicin may be a less effective deterrent for raccoons than squirrels. 

With its active component capsaicin, Cayenne pepper proves to be a valuable and effective squirrel deterrent for bird feeders. Its irritation to mammals’ skin and mucous membranes, including squirrels, makes it an all-natural solution for bird enthusiasts seeking to protect their feeders. As an alternative to commercial squirrel repellants, creating a homemade cayenne squirrel deterrent allows bird lovers to foster a more inviting space for feathered visitors while discouraging pests.

References:

  1. Abd El-Hack, M. E., El-Saadony, M. T., Elbestawy, A. R., Gado, A. R., Nader, M. M., Saad, A. M., El-Tahan, A. M., Taha, A. E., Salem, H. M., & El-Tarabily, K. A. (2022). Hot red pepper powder as a safe alternative to antibiotics in organic poultry feed: An updated review. Poultry Science101(4), 101684. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psj.2021.101684 
  2. Burke, R. L., Vargas, M., & Kanonik, A. (2015). Pursuing Pepper Protection: Habanero pepper powder does not reduce raccoon predation of terrapin nests. Chelonian Conservation and Biology14(2), 201–203. https://doi.org/10.2744/ccb-1145.1 
  3. Chapman, J. (1996). Effectiveness of capsaicin as a squirrel repellent at bird feeders (dissertation). 
  4. Curtis, Paul D.; Rowland, Elizabeth D.; Curtis, Gwen B.; and Dunn, Joseph A., “Capsaicin-treated seed as a squirrel deterrent at birdfeeders” (2000). Wildlife Damage Management Conferences — Proceedings. 18 https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/icwdm_wdmconfproc/18

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