Is Hot Pepper Bird Seed Safe for Birds?

Should you use hot sauce or cayenne pepper to keep squirrels off of bird feeders? Learn if adding hot pepper to bird seed is safe for birds.

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Will Cayenne Pepper Keep Squirrels Away From Bird Feeders?

Squirrel Perching On Bird FeederTony Quinn / EyeEm/Getty Images
Try squirrel proof feeders or baffles instead of sprinkling hot pepper on bird seed.

“Will it hurt birds if I put hot pepper on bird seed to keep squirrels away?” asks Birds & Blooms reader Richard Yelverton of Jackson, Mississippi.

Kenn and Kimberly: Expert opinions differ on this, and it’s good to question these things. The taste of cayenne pepper does often repel squirrels, and eating moderate amounts of pepper apparently won’t harm birds directly. In the American tropics, many birds even eat the red fruits of native wild peppers without being affected by the capsaicin they contain. In general, birds have far fewer taste buds than mammals, and the burning sensation doesn’t bother them. Avian digestive systems, including throats and stomachs, are very tough, which allows them to eat all kinds of things that would seem daunting to us.

But there’s a possibility that loose pepper on bird seed could blow around in the wind, potentially getting in birds’ eyes. Of course, the pepper can also get in the eyes of humans who are adding it to bird seed. In general, we suggest avoiding this method. Instead, place baffles and guards above and below feeders. It can take some experimentation to make the feeders truly squirrel proof, but it’s a safer option than adding irritating materials to the seed.

Do safflower seeds deter squirrels?

“I want to put out bird seed at my second house in Maine, but the squirrels and chipmunks get it first. I’ve tried red pepper flakes, but that didn’t stop them. What can I do?” asks Carol Webb of Saugus, Massachusetts.Carol Webb.

Kenn and Kimberly: This can be a challenge. Squirrels and chipmunks are remarkably agile and crafty. There are a number of bird feeders on the market designed to dissuade other creatures. We’ve had some success with a few of them. But we finally decided that we enjoy their antics. If you can’t beat ’em, feed ’em! We offer treats that we know the squirrels love, like peanuts and corn, in a spot away from the bird feeders. If the traffic gets to be too heavy, a stricter approach is to stop feeding the birds for a while until the squirrels lose interest.

Does Hot Sauce Deter Squirrels?

hot pepper bird seedVia Merchant

“I added hot sauce to my sunflower seed to discourage squirrels, but they still came. How much hot sauce should I be using?” Doug Decker of Kansas City, Missouri.

Kenn and Kimberly: Hot sauce on bird seed is effective enough for discouraging squirrels that bird feeding stores now offer their own brand of hot pepper sauce for that purpose. We’ve tried this method ourselves and found it a bit messy. The results varied. Fortunately, there are good alternatives.

Stores that specialize in bird feeding also sell squirrel-proof feeders that are consistently reliable. You could also try seed cylinders, which are blocks of seed bonded together with gelatin to cut down on loose seed falling to the ground and attracting squirrels and other unwelcome visitors. (Psst—also try these no-mess bird feeders). And, if you’re interested in giving the method another try, take the guesswork (and mess) out of it by purchasing pretreated suet cakes or bird seed.

Next, learn what to feed squirrels (and how to peacefully co-exist).

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman
Kenn and Kimberly are the official Birds & Blooms bird experts. They are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world. When they're not traveling, they enjoy watching birds and other wildlife in their Northwest Ohio backyard.