Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Are squirrel-spinner bird feeders any good? Savior or fraud?

Have you seen the videos of the squirrel-spinning bird feeders? One is embedded below. We'll discuss it in more detail later in this article.

Should you buy one if you want to keep squirrels away from your feeders? Are these squirrel-spinner bird feeders any good?

Summary: The squirrel-spinner bird feeders are very effective at keeping squirrels from eating the bird seed. However, the battery is a big source of customer complaints and misunderstanding.



Bird feeders designed to keep squirrels out


Portrait photo of red squirrel on cedar tree trunk
"I can break into any 'squirrel-proof' bird feeder designed by man."
Photo by Greg Gillson
Keeping squirrels out of the bird feeder seems an impossible task. A squirrel-proof bird feeder is almost an oxymoron. When present, squirrels can eat a large volume of bird seed and take over a feeder so that birds cannot feed. In addition, squirrels may gnaw on plastic bird feeder parts, destroying them.

There are two main bird feeder designs to keep squirrels out of your bird feeder: cages and weight sensitive feeding port perches. They work fairly well. But a determined squirrel will still get through to the seed.

Though not a bird feeder design, baffles can be added to poles below or cables above the feeder to make it more difficult for squirrels to reach feeders. Additionally, some foods such as safflower seed is less desirable to squirrels. And adding the chemical in hot peppers (capsaicin) to bird seed deters some squirrels, without impacting birds.

Some bird feeders have a wire cage surrounding them. These act to keep out larger squirrels and even larger jays, starlings and blackbirds. Smaller birds enter and feed easily. Small squirrels can still get in, as well as chipmunks. Here is a link to one on Amazon with good reviews that is typical of the design.

Another way bird feeders keep squirrels out is with weight-sensitive perches. When heavy squirrels press their weight on the perch to eat, the feeding ports close. Squirrels are very smart, acrobatic, and determined. They soon out-smart the closing feeder ports. They hang from above or reach out from the side without touching the perch. And, again, chipmunks may not be heavy enough to trigger the mechanism. Here is one on Amazon that shows it on a tube-type feeder.

The spinning bird feeder is a type of weight-sensitive squirrel-proof bird feeder. Here's that video I promised.


Only one manufacturer makes these. It is Droll Yankees of Connecticut, whose parent company is Classic Brands, LLC of Denver, Colorado. Classic Brands also owns/represents Stokes Select, More Birds, and Squirrel-X brands of bird feeders.

What is the Droll Yankees Flipper?


The Flipper is a battery-powered squirrel-proof bird feeder made by Droll Yankees. It keeps squirrels away by spinning when the feeder detects the weight of the squirrel on the feeding perch.

The bird feeder tube is 21 inches long with feeding ports at the bottom. This length prevents squirrels from hanging down from the top to reach the food. There are 4 feeding ports. This is not very many ports for such a large feeder. But the location of the feeder ports at the bottom of the tube works with the tube length to keep squirrels from reaching the bird food.

The feeder tube holds up to 5 pounds of bird seed. Along with only 4 feeding ports, as discussed, not very many birds can feed at once. So not as much seed is consumed in a day. This means that you don't have to constantly refill the feeder. A refill should last days or even weeks, depending upon how many hungry birds you have.

A rechargeable NiCad power pack and motor ("power stick") plugs into the bottom of the feeder. This powers the weight-activated perch to spin. Any heavy squirrel that leans on the perch to feed will trigger the bird feeder perch to start spinning. Squirrels are spun harmlessly off the feeder. The feeder includes a battery charger to recharge the battery pack.

What are the benefits of the Droll Yankees Flipper?


All reviews praise this feeder's ability to keep squirrels out of the feeder. One reviewer says that this unique spinning bird feeder is "absolutely squirrel-proof." High praise, indeed! This really does seem to be a bird feeder that is squirrel proof!

In fact, one reviewer said the squirrels gave up too quickly! They were looking forward to the promised entertainment value of seeing the squirrels going for a spin. But after a few attempts, the squirrels gave up. They went looking elsewhere for food and didn't try again!

The spinning feeder teaches the squirrels not to raid the bird feeder. It does so in a manner that doesn't harm the squirrels. This is a good thing.

Even heavy birds like Blue Jays and Starlings will be spun off.

The feeder holds up to 5 pounds of bird seed so you don't have to refill often.

What are the drawbacks of the Droll Yankees Flipper?


This spinning bird feeder does have some problems, though. And much of the complaints have to do with the battery.

NiCad batteries in the Droll Yankee Flipper


It's been 30 years since most of us have used NiCad batteries regularly. They act differently than Lithium-ion that we use today for our cell phones. NiCad batteries must be discharged all the way before recharging. If you recharge them when they are only half-way discharged, they will "remember" and stop working at that half-discharged state. If you don't charge them up all the way they will remember that, too! It will appear as if the batteries don't hold their charge and run out of charge too quickly.

To remove the "memory" effects of NiCad batteries follow these procedures: discharge the batteries fully in the bird feeder until it won't spin. Then recharge fully. Do this at least 3 times to restore the battery.

A note about recharging. You must recharge at least 14 hours, but no more than 24 hours! If you leave the batteries on the charger longer you will damage them permanently!

NiCad batteries don't like partial charges or discharges. And don't overcharge!

As you can imagine, then. There are a lot of reviews that say the batteries don't last. Reviewers complain that the batteries don't hold their charge after a couple of recharge cycles. And when people buy the expensive replacement batteries, they don't last either. I'm pretty sure that these users are charging and discharging their NiCad batteries incorrectly.

Why not use the more modern lithium-ion (Li-Ion) instead? Temperature and water. 

Li-Ion batteries lose their charge in cold weather. That's not good for winter bird feeding. NiCad batteries are very robust in cold and hot weather. Thus, they are the ideal choice.

Li-Ion batteries can explode if they get wet! That is bad for outdoor uses such as bird feeders.

Also of note. NiCad batteries are harder to get. They are banned by the European Union (EU) for all but medical devices. This is because cadmium is a toxic heavy metal. This causes problems for disposal, where ground water can be contaminated.

Other problems noted with the Droll Yankee Flipper


Price: this feeder is close to $200 on the manufacturer's website (Droll Yankees website). Even at retailers the price is quite high.



The replacement battery pack contains the motor and is very expensive, too, if you need to replace it.



The price for a replacement battery charger is reasonable. But don't leave the battery plugged in and charging for more than 24 hours or you will damage the battery!



You need to turn the power switch off during freezing rain. The ice may weigh down the perch and trigger the motor. But the perch may be frozen in place. This can cause damage to the battery or motor. But, then, you have no protection from squirrels when the spin motor is powered off.

Likewise, you should turn off the power switch during windstorms, as the perch may activate and drain the battery.

The bird feeder holds up to 5 pounds of seed. If the battery fails you will have some very fat squirrels!

Breakage due to the feeder falling is not covered by the warranty. If wind blows the feeder off your post or shepherd's hook, breakage is not covered. If squirrels or raccoons or deer or bears knock the feeder over, any breakage is not covered.

Did you notice that quite a bit of seed spills out of the bird feeder when it spins? This may be enough for squirrels to learn to activate the spinner in order to get seed from the ground.

One reviewer noted that the battery was discharged every morning and the seed gone. It turns out a raccoon was grabbing the perch and keeping it from spinning until the battery was depleted.

The feeder is pre-set to spin when anything heavier than a cardinal lands on it. That's good to keep away larger birds like Blue Jays or starlings. One reviewer noted that flocks of "blackbirds" came to the feeder. The birds would keep landing on the perch and spin until the battery was discharged and they could then consume all the seed in the entire feeder!

Taking the feeder apart to recharge the battery is complicated. It has several small parts that may be easily lost. It requires a 5/8 inch wrench.


Yankee Flipper feeder instructions from the manufacturer's website.

There are only 4 feeder ports. This is necessary to keep squirrels away. However, this also limits the number of birds that can feed at once--perhaps only the most aggressive ones that chase others off.

The perch is a bit small ("awkward") for cardinals and other larger but desirable feeder birds.

Some reviewers note that the motor/battery unscrewed itself as it spun!

Conclusion


I don't know. Is this spinning bird feeder worth it? Do you have one? What would you recommend? Let me know in the comments.

For me, the hassles with the battery would make me look long and hard at the other squirrel-proof bird feeders. Droll Yankees has several other bird feeders with mechanical-collapsing perches: the Dipper, Tipper, and Whipper! No battery required! Check out these other squirrel-proof bird feeders on the Amazon website.



You may like: Do squirrels scare birds from bird feeders?



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