Dave Rossi really needs to get his column nationally syndicated. Today he talks about an issue that may sound trite, but is near and dear to my heart - squirrels and bird feeders
. His rather comical description of squirrels is spot on.
I am not fond of squirrels. They are nature's version of the welfare queens that Ronald Reagan used to denounce, except these furry welfare queens are real. Why the harsh judgment? Simple. There is plenty in the woods and fields for these little rodents to eat if they would only make the effort to find it.
Instead, they prefer to dine at bird feeders. Bird feeders become squirrel feeders unless you take precautions. And let me tell you from experience that just about every precaution you take, a squirrel will overcome within hours; sometimes minutes. If they spent half as much effort figuring out ways to get food in the wild as they do plundering bird feeders, they'd all be fat as shoats. But no, they'd rather free-load.
He then goes on to describe a rather brilliant way to construct a bird feeder using a beer ball which seemed to be virtually squirrel-proof. That is... until he met ... Super Squirrel.
[Y]ou've got a squirrel-proof feeder. Or so I thought until I met Supersquirrel. That was a couple of months ago. I was awakened shortly after dawn one day by the sound of one of the beer balls on a backyard feeder being assaulted. My first thought was a bear; we'd had one in the neighborhood recently.
It wasn't a bear; it was a squirrel. It looked no different from the four other squirrels nibbling at the sunflower seeds that the blue jays had scattered from the feeder tray onto the ground, but this one was clinging to the feeder pole and trying to rip the nail supporting the base of the beer ball from its hole in the pipe.
And when it tired of that it would use its head to butt the beer ball up against the base of the feeder. This was clearly a squirrel among squirrels. After a few frustrating minutes, the squirrel dropped off the pole and ducked under a nearby honeysuckle bush. But five minutes later, apparently refreshed, it was back at it, scrambling up the pole, chomping at the nail and head-butting the beer ball.
I left off watching to take a shower. When I came out, all was quiet in the back yard -- too quiet, as they used to say in those B-movie thrillers. A glance out the window told me why. The beer ball was on the ground and Supersquirrel was sitting on the feeder tray stuffing his furry face with sunflower seeds.
I've had some direct experience with this situation. We have a fairly effective bird feeder in our back yard of the squirrel-proof variety. Without going into too many details, it has a spring loaded "perch" in front of the small slot where the bird seed is available. If anything much heavier than a couple smallish birds sits on the perch, it lowers down, closing a metal cover over the slot and preventing access to the food. A squirrel or any bird of pigeon size or larger, will weigh down the mechanism and block off the food. So, primarily, we only get sparrows and nut hatches feeding in our yard.
An unexpected side effect of this was a social experiment which demonstrated that small birds are just as lazy and greedy as your average human. Instead of a variety of birds just "passing through" and visiting our feeder, we quickly acquired a dozen or so Mafia type avian thugs who absolutely refuse to ever leave the yard, or indeed travel further than an ornamental bush about five yards from the feeder. They protect their treasure trove aggressively, chasing off any new birds who show up.
And with them, we also acquired The Squirrel. As animals go on the intelligence scale, this one is certainly bright enough. He quickly figured out that he couldn't eat at the feeder because of the trap door. But he also was quick to realize that birds are fairly sloppy eaters, particularly when they are fighting for a spot on the perch. They knock down all manner of seeds towards the ground and The Squirrel spends his days standing down there like a Yankees right fielder, baseball glove raised up, waiting to catch the treats as they fall.
The next consequence of this chain of events is that the pack of brutish birds (and The Squirrel) have all become incredibly fat. Seriously... both the formerly tiny birds and the robbing rodent have blown up to the point where they absolutely waddle.
Normally neither the birds nor The Squirrel are in any danger. Our cats are strictly indoor felines, though they do all love gathering around the windows near the back of the house and watching "bird TV" as my wife calls it. The dog, upon being let out into the yard, will make a half hearted attempt at catching The Squirrel, but she is old and even in his plump condition, the furry little thief always makes it to a nearby tree before the dog can get close. As for the birds, our dog realized at an early age that birds get an unfair advantage in the chase game by virtue of being able to escape in three dimensions, and now she just ignores them.
So all was well for our feeding visitors until this fall. That's when our new guests arrived. They are a pair of red tailed hawks. I don't know where they nest, but they quickly figured out that a yard with a built in population of fat, slow moving sparrows was a pretty good spot to hang out. So now we're feeding larger birds too. The difference is, they don't eat bird seed.
I just can't figure out why they won't take care of the squirrel, though. Don't hawks eat rodents as well as small birds? Or is this fat bastard just too heavy to haul up into the air, so they stick with the smaller snacks? I don't' have the heart to shoot the squirrel or trap him, so I suppose he can just go on with his freeloading for now.