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Squirrels Do Not Scratch Their Eyes Out
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

June 7, 1998

The naysayers are again swelling the body of incorrect knowledge. In the greater Toronto area at least, in April and May, numerous press items were centred on a pepper-based product sold to discourage squirrels from eating birdseed. The product, Squirrel Away, has been marked throughout the USA and Canada for many years, and has an excellent record.

The various reports that it causes squirrels to "scratch their eyes out" could NOT be further from the truth. For the facts, I went to Alex Fernandez, President, Scrypton Systems Inc. in Maryland. He told me the Squirrel Away product was developed with one purpose in mind--to create a natural solution to a common problem for people who feed birds. The problem of squirrels in bird feeders is widespread and unfortunately creates a conflict. Scrypton Systems encourages people to feed squirrels and have done so since first creating the product.

Squirrel Away discourages squirrels from eating at bird feeders and encourages them to eat at alternative areas. Many people provide food for them on the ground in another area of the garden. Squirrel food has become very popular and it is a top seller in many stores. The alternatives to using a product such as Squirrel Away usually have serious consequences for the squirrels. Alternative methods widely used include: 1) live trapping [This method is dangerous to squirrels, as they become so upset they try to chew the cage and many times hurt themselves. People who use traps often don't check them frequently and squirrels and other animals die of dehydration. Many times the person trapping kills the animal.], 2) poisons [Using poison baits means a painful death to squirrels and other mammals], and 3) firearms [The shooting of squirrels is common place and serves no real purpose.]

Some writers have suggested alternatives such as moist human hair placed in cheesecloth bags. I myself have recommended this as a partial answer to intruding raccoons at water gardens since about 1984. It does work for them but seems less successful with squirrels. Squirrel Away is an alternative that is humane and natural. Squirrels avoid the product after a brief encounter.

The chemical has been studied by most of the top research institutions in the world. They all have reached the same conclusion: the chemical that makes a pepper hot is not harmful to mammals. What actually happens is a pain receptor in the brain is alerted, causing what we as mammals feel. This reaction goes back thousands of years to the pepper plant itself. It wanted to encourage avian seed dispersers and discourage mammal browsers. The creation of this strategy by the plant was a wholly natural process. The creation of the Squirrel Away product was a refining of this natural process for the benefit of man and squirrels.

There has never been the case of a squirrel scratching its eyes as a result of the use of this product in over three years of sales and over a million packages. No reported cases in research sites or field-tests. In direct contact with users the company knows this has never happened. As with many who make assumptions, many things are not understood about the product and over the years there has been much misinformation written about how it works that has no basis in truth.

You could relate it to the fact that many years ago it was thought tomatoes were deadly and no one would eat them. They were shunned, until a man ate one on the courthouse steps and didn't fall over and die, then they became popular! Alex Fernandez told me that he and others have observed, including video taping, hundreds of times, exactly what happens with squirrels and his product. He said the squirrel enters the feeder and starts to feed. It senses the pepper product and leaves feeder and thinks about the encounter. The squirrel might rub his mouth or nose with his paws and could even get some water if it's close by. The squirrel may try again or look on the ground for feed that has been knocked from feeder. This feed is not concentrated in the powder so usually he can feed freely. Any depiction of any squirrel scratching its eyes or hurting itself in any way is false.

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