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updated: 10/7/2010 11:22 AM

Feeding birds while keeping squirrels out

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  • Tom Degler of Geneva makes and sells bird feeders that are squirrel-proof. He donates all profits to the Northern Illinois Food Bank. Here you will find his different models that will be ready for sale at the Kane County Flea Market. "I sell about 40-50 a month, he laughs.

      Tom Degler of Geneva makes and sells bird feeders that are squirrel-proof. He donates all profits to the Northern Illinois Food Bank. Here you will find his different models that will be ready for sale at the Kane County Flea Market. "I sell about 40-50 a month, he laughs.
    Rena Naltas | Staff Photographer

  • Tom Degler puts the finishing touches to one of his squirrel-proof bird feeders. The bottom of the feeder can be removed and cleaned out to ensure long use. All profits are donated to the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

      Tom Degler puts the finishing touches to one of his squirrel-proof bird feeders. The bottom of the feeder can be removed and cleaned out to ensure long use. All profits are donated to the Northern Illinois Food Bank.
    Rena Naltas | Staff Photographer

  • Birds enjoy their bird seeds because no squirrels have gotten into their food. The spring perches on Tom Degler's bird feeders only support birds.

      Birds enjoy their bird seeds because no squirrels have gotten into their food. The spring perches on Tom Degler's bird feeders only support birds.
    Rena Naltas | Staff Photographer

  • Tom Degler enjoys keeping track of the sales for his squirrel-proof bird feeders. He laughs, "It's all fun to me! Degler donates all profits to the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

      Tom Degler enjoys keeping track of the sales for his squirrel-proof bird feeders. He laughs, "It's all fun to me! Degler donates all profits to the Northern Illinois Food Bank.
    Rena Naltas | Staff Photographer

 
By Amy E. Williams

The local squirrels might be a little hungrier, but thanks to Tom Degler of Geneva, many area families are getting the food they need.

A few years ago, Degler was watching the Bears game in his family rooms when he noticed a squirrel cleaning out his backyard bird feeder.

As if it weren't frustrating enough watching the Bears, Degler started to get worked up as he saw the squirrel empty the whole feeder out while he watched the game.

Degler had recently retired, and filling the bird feeder was now one of his jobs at home.

"I said this has got to stop. I decided I'm going to have to find a better way to deter the squirrels from cleaning me out, or I'm going to be out there all the time refilling that feeder, Degler said. "I don't mind if they get the extras on the ground, but not the feed that's meant for the birds in the feeder.

So Degler got to work, finding a feeder that would feed the birds, but keep the squirrels out.

First, he had the feeder on top of a pole, which didn't work.

Next, he decided to move to a hanging feeder. But to his dismay, the squirrels jumped easily from the bushes to the feeder.

Then, he added another extension onto the feeder, making it harder to jump from the bushes. But still, they got in by climbing the pole and coming in from the top.

So, he decided to build his own.

It took more than a year of trial and error, and several boxes full of discarded parts. But finally, by the following spring, he had a prototype that he thought would do the trick.

He showed a friend, who convinced him to show it to a retailer.

When he did, the retailer immediately liked it, and said he'd order four or five more of the feeders.

And so Degler found his new calling, and got to work building more feeders, which he calls SquirrelAway Bird Café.

Soon he was selling them in stores up and down the Fox Valley, at the Kane County Fair, and to people across the country on eBay. And then he started to get fancy, adding different colors and even a solar powered mood light.

"It's been a lot of fun, he said.

But it's also done a lot of good not only for bird feeder owners tired of squirrels, but also for needy families in the area.

Degler decided he would build the feeders purely for fun, instead of profit. He decided to donate all of the profits to the Northern Illinois Food Bank based in St. Charles.

"I'm retired and the Lord's been good to me. I decided to give all the profits to them, he said.

And with that, Degler came up with his sales slogan: "Fool a Squirrel, Feed a Family.

Since then, he's helped feed many, many local families.

For each feeder he builds, he says he makes about $10 profit, all of which he donates to the food bank.

The food bank says for every $10 they receive, they can provide 60 meals.

He's been able to help provide about 18,000 meals so far through his donations, he said.

"It's provided a lot of meals and that's cool, he said. "I grew up on a farm and worked in the ag industry all my life. It seemed like the right place for the money to go to.

He says he believes many people buy his feeders because of the good cause.

And, of course, they also buy them because they work, he said.

His key to his success, he says, is the perch, which is a spring. The bird can sit on it, but squirrels are too heavy.

"It can hold the weight of a cardinal, but the squirrel weighs quite a bit more than the spring, he said.

It also deters heavier birds, such as doves, robins and grackles.

To see it in action, you can check out his website at www.squirrelproof.biz to view a video he shot of it working, or see his video on display at the fairgrounds once a month.

When you watch it, it's almost akin to "America's Funniest Home Videos. The squirrel jumps on the feeder, and over and over again he falls off.

Degler shot the video at his home and in his son's backyard.

Currently, he's working on a new prototype for a feeder.

But for now, he's still making the others, and can do about four in a day.

"It's a hoot. I enjoy making them, he said. "It's just for fun. There's no fringe benefits and the pay is nothing, but it's turned out really well.

"You do the math and you see that this little something has made a little difference. It's over 18,000 meals so far. I don't take credit for it, other than the idea and providing it for the people who need it.