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Toronto (Etobicoke), ON M9B 6E3
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We are celebrating our ten year anniversary in 2011 and for the past ten years Lynda and I have always recommended these two control methods, live traps and capsaicin, NOT be used to control the activities of squirrels in your backyard. We have always recommended the use of these defeat’em methods; squirrel proof feeders, baffles and/or safflower seed and if possible combine that with the feed’em method of easy access food. Many people discovered one of these combinations would work but in some cases (rare) these methods were not possible or people wanted to believe the recommendations from other sources.
We have noticed over the past couple of years an increase in requests for recommendations to help prevent squirrels and other furry backyard visitors from eating bird food, damaging plants and lawns. Unfortunately we have also noticed an increase in people accepting the recommendation that a live trap and more so the use of capsaicin is the right answer. We continue to strongly recommend AGAINST these two methods but we realized we needed to add some new “tools” to the defeat’em arsenal and we needed to provide additional supporting arguments against the use of live traps and capsaicin.
We have done the required research and have been able to source no less than five new human, animal and environmentally friendly defeat’em tools. PlantSkyde, Shake Away, Acti-Sol, ScareCrow and CatStop are all effective safe control methods. For more information on these options please download our current newsletter.
Our focus in this article is to present you with the information that will help you understand why for ten years we have advocated against the use of live traps and in particular capsaicin.
The Toronto Wildlife Centre and the Humane Society of the United States are against the live trapping and then re-locating of squirrels. The two organizations both state that the re-located squirrel typically does not survive in its new environment. In general starvation, a lack of shelter, physical attack from the local wildlife all lead to the probable death of the re-located animal. We believe these two sources represent the true picture of live trapping animals for the purpose of solving a simple backyard problem.
As per the Toronto Wildlife Centre:
I found a squirrel nest and/or babies in an inconvenient or dangerous area. Can I move it/them to a better area?
Moving squirrel babies to a new location will orphan the young. Even if babies are moved with their mother it is unlikely that she will continue to care for them in the new location. Additionally, relocating an adult squirrel will place the animal in a new territory where it would be at an extreme disadvantage—in addition to it being against the law to relocate wildlife, relocated animals often do not survive in their “new” territory. Squirrels commonly den in busy urban and suburban areas, and tend to do even better in these areas—where there is ample food and shelter—than more remote “natural” habitat. Relocating wildlife also does not address the real source of the problem, which is a structure that has not been properly “animal-proofed” or a food source is available. New animals will simply move in to the space left open by relocated animals.
As per the Humane Society of the United States:
Live-trapping squirrels and taking them to “the woods,” where they will live happily ever after, is not the ideal solution to local problems. Studies show that few squirrels may survive the move. And when a squirrel is removed from a yard, another squirrel will move in, sometimes within a few days.
Capsaicin is what gives us the “wow that food is hot (spicy)” feeling when we eat hot peppers or add a hot sauce to our food. As per the Wildlife Damage Management, “…Capsaicin is the pungent component in Capsicum plants that is responsible for the sensations people associate with eating chilli peppers. The heat strength of capsaicin is traditionally measured in Scoville Heat Units…”
Capsaicin works as a deterrent because “…In mammals, capsaicin physically binds to a pain receptor, triggering the same neurological pathway as other painful stimuli (Nagy 1982, Bevan and Szolcsányi 1990,Andelt et al. 1992, Norman et al. 1992, Liu and Simon 1994, Surh and Lee 1995). Capsaicin has many other effects in mammals, including disruption of the thermoregulatory system (Jansco-Gabor et al. 1970, Obal et al. 1981, Szolcsányi et al. 1986), and most mammals find capsaicin repellent (Rozin et al. 1979, Szolcsányi et al. 1986, Mason 1998, Wagner and Nolte 2000)…”. Essentially capsaicin causes pain therefore we can use pain as a method of changing animal behaviour.
Capsaicin products are typically purchased as a seed blend with the interior and exterior of the seed treated with capsaicin or it is sold as an additive that is added to bird seed or the powder is sprinkled or sprayed around the base of your garden plants. As per the Squirrel Proof advertising materials Capsaicin “ …teaches or conditions squirrels to the association between the taste they don't like and the smell of the food. When you see the squirrels avoiding your bird feeder, you know that the smell of "Treat Your Own" has been learned. Once the smell has been established, squirrels do not need to eat the food any longer as it is the smell that keeps squirrels out of the feeder. This process may take a few weeks, but, once conditioned, you can then use "Treat Your Own" with excellent effectiveness to keep squirrels from other areas of your garden…” (http://www.squirrelproof.ca/treat-your-own.html)
So why do we advocate against this option? We don’t believe “pain” training is the right method for teaching anything or anyone. But we know not everyone has the same empathy for all living creatures so we went on a mission to research some of the facts around the use of capsaicin. Here is what we discovered:
1. University of Nebraska – Internet Centre for Wildlife Damage Management
“Although most evidence to date suggests that birds would be unharmed by eating capsaicin
treated seed, negative effects have been reported. Injections of capsaicin at doses higher than 0.1% w/v (equivalent to 16,500 SHUs) affect thermoregulation when given intravenously, and eye-blinking when applied as a topical solution (Mason and Maruniak 1983). Austic et al. (1997) found that chickens fed on a mash of 3,500 SHUs for 6 months showed depressed egg production and hatchability. Free ranging birds that supplement their diet with capsaicin-treated seed would not be expected to exhibit these reactions. However, further studies of the long-term effects of birds ingesting hot seed are needed.”
Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University; Snyder Seed Corporation, Buffalo, New York
Paul D. Curtis, Elizabeth D. Rowlandy, Gwen B. Curtisz, Joseph A. Dunn
2. Cornell Lab of Ornithology
“Squirrels (and other mammals) may be deterred from consuming birdseed treated with capsaicin, the chemical that makes peppers “hot.” Many commercial products are coated with capsaicin, but we are unaware of any research examining the affect of capsaicin on birds. The substance may irritate the eyes of birds (as it often irritates the eyes of people filling the feeders). Further, the effects of capsaicin on the digestive systems of birds have not been studied. Although capsaicin may not negatively affect wild birds, we discourage adding any products to bird foods that have not been thoroughly tested.”
“Some bird watchers have been using seeds that are coated with hot pepper or capsaicin products. Theoretically, squirrels avoid the coated seed while birds are unaffected. Although birds naturally eat chile seeds in the wild with no ill effects, no studies have specifically verified that this practice is safe for birds at your feeder” (http://www.birds.cornell.edu/Page.aspx?pid=1185)
3. National Pesticide Information Society
“Capsaicin is toxic to bees and other beneficial insects.” (http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/Capsaicintech.pdf)
Point number one is from the actual test used to determine the effectiveness of capsaicin treated seed as a deterrent against squirrels and the popularity with birds. Oddly enough as you read the report you discover the actual treated seed tested was pure black oil sunflower seed not the actual blend which is sold in retail stores. In the end the researchers stated they do not know the long term effects of birds eating “hot seed” and if the researchers (one being a representative of the company owning the process patent, Joseph A.Dunn, Snyder Seed Corporation) state this fact why we would you want to take a chance or harming the very creatures you are trying to help.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology is the leader in the study of wild birds and their interaction with bird feeders. In these two quotes the experts at the Cornell Lab “discourage adding any products to bird foods that have not been thoroughly tested.” and “no studies have specifically verified that this practice is safe for birds at your feeder”. One of the acknowledged experts in backyard bird feeding does NOT support the use of capsaicin.
Point number three was a surprise to us. “Capsaicin is toxic to bees and other beneficial insects.” We were not aware of this issue. We are aware that bees are a main pollinator and we need the bees to pollinate our food crops and plants. We also aware there is concern that the honey bee population is in decline, http://www.cbc.ca/documentaries/natureofthings/2010/bees/. Based on this information we do not want to introduce any substance to our backyard that may contribute to the decline of such an important part of our environment.
In conclusion we believe our stance against the use of live traps and the use of capsaicin in your habitat is clearly proven by the supporting documentation we have discovered through our research
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