Hot Pepper: Why It Repels Squirrels And How To Use It


A Gray Squirrel perched on wood post.

Squirrels can be quite a nuisance once they have discovered an easy and abundant food supply. One source might be your bird feeders… Or maybe your garden. Not only are the birds angry, but you are too! 

Hot pepper contains a chemical called capsaicin, which is what is responsible for the “hot” in “hot pepper”. A squirrel’s strong sense of taste and smell are irritated by the capsaicin in hot pepper. Placing hot pepper flakes or spray in an area where squirrels frequent will keep them away.

Though pretty innocent looking, squirrels are not ones we really want to be making friends with around our property. They’ll take advantage… Here we will show you a few ways on how to use hot pepper to repel squirrels. Let’s dive in! 

Where Do Squirrels Live? 

If it seems like squirrels are pretty much everywhere, it’s because they are, except for Antarctica and Australia. So, it would seem we are bound to run into them at some point! 

Don’t worry, we will get to how to repel these little buggers in a second! 

In the United States, you can find squirrels in almost every state, depending on the species of squirrel. Be sure to research your specific region to see what types of squirrels might be in your area. Personally, I have mostly gray squirrels, which means they make their nests in trees and don’t hibernate.

Lucky me… 

Eastern gray squirrels are one of the most common species of squirrels in the United States. The other main types of squirrels include (but are not limited to!) fox squirrels, red squirrels, brown squirrels, and flying squirrels. 

Once you know what type of squirrel you are dealing with, we will know the best tactic to repel them. 

Squirrel Habitat

Squirrels make their home in a variety of habitats, depending on the species of squirrel as we learned above.  

Gray squirrels like to make their homes in trees in wooded forests, preferably hickory, pecan, walnut, or oak trees where there are plenty of nuts to feast on. The trees also help with cover from predators, especially ones that cannot climb very well!  

Some other species also like to live in burrows. Some squirrels prefer the security of dens in the ground to help deter predators and keep their young safe. Unfortunately for us, this also means they could use our property as the next best thing.

Holes underneath sheds and other buildings resembling burrows could also be a great place for a squirrel to make a home for its family. We will get into how to prevent this in a bit! 

It is also important to note that gray squirrels do not hibernate! They are less active during the colder months, sometimes resting for long periods of time during the coldest days. 

Just note, if you live in a high gray squirrel population, you could be seeing these critters in the winter as well!  

What Do Squirrels Eat?

Squirrels, as you have probably guessed by now, like to eat nuts or other plant-based meals but are also carnivorous. Tree squirrels primarily eat oak and hickory nuts, but also eat corn, berries, succulent plants, fungi, fruits, depending on the time of year and food availability. 

During the colder months when there is not very much food, they also chew on tree bark. 

They have also been known to eat insects which are a high source of protein, as well as bird eggs if they can get to them. 

Squirrel in the park

Don’t Squirrels Forget Where They Store Their Food?

Actually, squirrels do remember where an abundant food source is, contrary to popular belief that squirrels forget where they store their stash. I, too, mistakenly believed this myth. 

Though, if we are being honest, there are times I do forget where I set my coffee down in the morning… 

As a matter of fact, in a 1991 study published in the Animal Behavior journal, researchers discovered that when gray squirrels were returned to their food cache sites, the squirrels retrieved the hazelnuts from their own cache more frequently, despite their cache sites being close to that of other squirrels. 

Crazy, right?

So it would seem that squirrels would remember where your bird feeder is year after year! 

Why Hot Pepper Repels Squirrels From Your Property

I love spicy food, but not everyone does. Capsaicin is the chemical in hot pepper that makes it, well, hot! Like many mammals, squirrels have a lower tolerance to this chemical in hot pepper, so it can be used as a deterrent to repel these rodents from your bird feeders or gardens!  

It is a chemical that, when consumed by mammals, causes that hot, uncomfortable sensation. The same goes for squirrels. 

Now, how can we use hot pepper to repel them? 

How To Use Hot Pepper To Repel Squirrels?

As we now know, capsaicin is the active chemical in hot pepper that makes your mouth hot when you eat it. 

We can use this to our advantage when trying to repel squirrels. 

In a study published in the National Wildlife Research Center Repellents Conference journal, researchers discovered that squirrels noticed a difference between hot pepper food and non-hot pepper food. When given the choice they preferred the untreated food compared to the hot pepper food.

They also noticed during the study that when the squirrels did eat the treated hot pepper food, they showed signs of irritation, including face rubbing, much like what I do when I put too many jalapeños on my pizza! 

Below are a few different ways you can use hot pepper to repel those nuisance squirrels. 

Use Cayenne Pepper Flakes or Powder To Deter Squirrels

For those of us on a budget, you can go into your pantry for a cost-effective way to repel squirrels. Cayenne pepper powder is a common spice that many of us might have on our spice rack and can be used to deter squirrels.

Repelling Squirrels From Bird Feeders

For squirrels invading your bird feeder, simply mix the cayenne pepper powder in with your seed! It could take one mouthful to make the squirrel think twice before climbing the pole to your bird feeder again! 

And for those of us that are worried about the birds, don’t! Birds do not react to the capsaicin chemical as mammals do. This means that birds either do not have the receptors in their mouths that bind with the capsaicin or that their receptors are just insensitive to the capsaicin. 

So your homemade deterrent will work on just the squirrels and not the birds. 

Reapply the pepper powder after a few days and after a rainfall. This will encourage the squirrels to move on to a different food source. 

Keeping Squirrels From Burying Food in Your Yard

You can also sprinkle it on disturbed ground where squirrels like to bury their food for later. Be sure to reapply, as we said before, after rainfall or every few days. 

The area around your bird feeders on the ground is a popular feeding spot for squirrels, and it would not hurt to sprinkle the cayenne pepper there too. 

Squirrel sitting on the roof

Deter Squirrels With A Hot Pepper Spray

Another method is to use a spray. The solution can be sprayed on plants and surfaces that the squirrels have been disturbing. 

Keep in mind this is just one of several recipes you could use to make a hot pepper spray. 

Spray In Gardens and Flower Beds

A part of a squirrel’s diet could include some of the food in your veggie or flower garden. Gardeners! You can protect your precious crops by using hot pepper around affected areas. 

In a spray bottle, mix a quart of water, some tabasco sauce, and a small spoonful of liquid dish soap. The hot sauce irritates the squirrel’s mouth and the dish soap helps the hot sauce stick to the plant the squirrel might want. The water dilutes the hot sauce a bit so it is less concentrated. 

Before spraying your entire garden, be sure to research if any plants cannot withstand the spray. We do not want the plants to wilt! 

Spray Near Rope Lights

If you’re finding that squirrels are going after your rope lights, you can spray hot pepper spray near them to deter squirrels. You can read more on how to stop squirrels from eating your Christmas lights here.

Plant Hot Pepper Plants To Repel Squirrels

Another way we can repel squirrels is by planting hot pepper plants in your garden. Not only will you repel the squirrels if they take a bite, but you can also make sauces for a chicken wing party with your friends!

What Other Critters Can Hot Pepper Repel? 

Now that we know a few ways we can repel squirrels, what other animals can hot pepper be used to repel?

Just to name a few, hot pepper can be used against foxes, raccoons, and other smaller mammals. These mammals have taste receptors like us and hot pepper is uncomfortable and irritating to them once consumed, especially if least expecting it. 

Other Ways You Can Repel Squirrels

If hot pepper is not an option, or if you don’t have any in your pantry, no worries. There are some other ways we can try to deter these little guys! 

If you’re interested, you can also check out our full guide to the scents squirrels hate here.

Close Off Holes Or Other Accessible Areas

As we mentioned above, a quiet hole underneath your shed could be a great place for a squirrel to make its den

One way to prevent squirrels from making themselves at home is by closing off these types of areas, making them inaccessible to them. If it is too much trouble, they will most likely move on. 

A great way to close off these areas is by putting chicken wire around the hole or put larger rocks in the way. This should deter the squirrels, as well as other pests such as raccoons and chipmunks. 

Use Repellent Products

If you are unsure about what type of spray or pepper to use, there are other products you can purchase online. One good one is I Must Garden Squirrel Repellent, which you can sprinkle in your birdseed.

Be sure to follow the directions on proper application and reapplication. 

Scare Tape!

XPCARE Scare Tape can be used as well if your bird feeders are the issue. This tape is flashy and catches the squirrels eye, making them wary of proceeding to where that shiny scary thing is! 

This also works against pest birds, so be strategic about where you place this tape! I would recommend the side of the house or maybe the roof of your sheds if you have low-hanging branches and the squirrels and other pests are a problem.

Install Squirrel Boxes

You could also install some squirrel boxes in the woods of your property, if able. Hopefully, that will encourage the squirrels to move away from your property and nest in those more appealing boxes.

Essentially, a squirrel box is the same as a bird or bat house, but for squirrels!

Repel Squirrels With Garlic

Much like hot pepper, squirrels hate garlic as well! Squirrels detest the sharp taste of garlic and it’s strong scent masks other food sources that may attract a squirrel. You can read more about repelling squirrels with garlic here.

Get A Pet Cat

Cats are also a great way to deter squirrels. If squirrels, like any smaller rodent, smell, hear or see signs of a predator, they will most likely move along. 

Cats are hunters by nature and shouldn’t be able to resist chasing away a problem squirrel in your house! 

Gray squirrel sitting in between tree branches

Consult A Professional

If you have a lot of squirrels and they become more troublesome than just a couple getting into your bird feeders, it is best to contact a professional for advice or to come out and assess the situation. 

Never take measures into your own hands if you are even the slightest bit unsure. It is best to leave it to your local wildlife professional should you have any doubts. It will keep both you and the wildlife living 100% in harmony. 

That’s It, Folks! 

I know I threw a bit of info at you, so let’s recap. 

Hot pepper contains the chemical capsaicin which gives hot pepper its kick! Squirrels have taste receptors similar to ours, so when they eat hot foods, it affects their mouths like humans. We can use this to our advantage. 

By sprinkling hot pepper into your bird feed, it irritates the squirrel’s mouth to the point where they should think twice before diving into your bird feeder again! Spraying a hot pepper or hot sauce solution on your garden plants can help as well. 

There are also alternative methods to help repel squirrels if hot pepper isn’t an option. Scroll up for some suggestions! And as always, should you have any questions or concerns, please consult a wildlife professional and they will be able to best direct you. 

Remember, the more tactics used at once the better chances you have at repelling any problem squirrels on your property.

If you’re interested in learning more about squirrels, check out our guide on what kind of damage squirrels can do to your house.

References

Fitzgerald, C. S., Curtis, P. D., Richmond, M. E., & Dunn, J. A. (1995, August). Effectiveness of capsaicin as a repellent to birdseed consumption by gray squirrels. In National Wildlife Research Center Repellents Conference 16, 169-183.

Jackson, J. J. (1994). Tree squirrels. The Handbook: Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage, 10.

Jacobs, L. F., Liman, E. R. (1991). Grey squirrels remember the locations of buried nuts. Animal Behavior, 41(1), 103-110.

Nelson, E. W. (1899). Revision of the squirrels of Mexico and Central America (Vol. 1). The Academy.

Pierce, R. A. (2012). Tree squirrels: managing habitat and controlling damage. Natural resources.

Thorington Jr, R. W., Koprowski, J. L., Steele, M. A., & Whatton, J. F. (2012). Squirrels of the world. JHU Press.

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