I used to love squirrels. Until I hung a bird feeder.
Having moved to the suburbs, I was going to enjoy bringing all the birds to my yard. Fancying myself an amateur birder, I anticipated seeing all different types, and learning how to identify them by their unique coloring and sounds. It was soothing to watch them swoop in, take their meal with gusto, then head off for their next destination – whether it be another type of birdseed at a neighbor’s yard or someplace more exotic, like Alaska. For, of course, I would now be a stopover for all those migrating species.
Alas, my desire for bird friends was ill fated from the moment I hung up the feeder, for it attracted nature’s worst opportunists, squirrels.
Indeed, I wouldn’t have minded them helping themselves if only they would be willing to share the bounty. But greedy as they are, they kept coming in droves, monopolizing the feeder and frightening the timid birds away.
One particular squirrel was larger than all the others. I called her Spot, for the unusual patch of white fur on her back. Shaking her fist, the other squirrels would cower, and our yard’s resident chipmunk would scurry away. If he didn’t stand a chance in that pecking order, then the hollow-boned birds certainly didn’t.
I kept the feeder hanging from a metal shepherd’s hook secured in the ground, figuring this would make access to anyone without wings impossible. Well, let me tell you, “can’t” isn’t a word in the squirrel’s vocabulary. Spot learned how to scale the pole in no time at all.
Our uninvited guest virtually took up residence on that feeder. She wouldn’t share. And she wouldn’t leave. She’d just hang upside down all afternoon, the feeder spinning and swaying in the breeze or under her own weight. She didn’t care about anything beyond gorging herself.
Fattening up on nuts and seeds, Spot grew alarmingly large. Increasingly emboldened, she began her shift at the feeder each morning by approaching it with the slow but purposeful gait of a steroid-enhanced weightlifter. She had swagger, she had heft, and nobody but nobody was going to mess with her. The other squirrels would scatter when she came on the scene.
I bought a “squirrel-proof” feeder, thinking that would solve the issue. What a joke. There were these metal leaves that would shift downward to cover the feeding holes under a squirrel’s weight. Imagine my dismay – and shock – as I watched Spot pry the metal up. Like a Terminator she bent the hole-coverings until she could access the prize within.
I tried greasing the pole with canola oil, thinking that would foil Spot. But again, nothing is impossible for a determined squirrel. She kept clutching that slippery pole and sliding back down to the ground, until she conquered the puzzle by taking a running leap and scrambling up to the top with nothing but sheer will to propel her.
The ten-inch-long vertical feeder was emptied by the end of each day. I’d paid good money for specialty birdseed mixes yet was having to refill it daily. Frustrated at how much it was costing to feed this extra mouth, I’d open the door and shoo Spot away. She’d leap off the pole, give me a hard look, and retreat just until I’d gone back inside. Next time I looked out, she’d be back up on the feeder. We’d continue this song and dance, but nothing deterred this ungrateful, insatiable squirrel.
My husband and I worried that Spot had grown too large and aggressive. Perhaps she was now a danger to our toddler, to neighbors, to us all. I’d messed with the natural order of things, thrown the ecosystem off balance. Who knew what mayhem could follow?
Frustrated and disappointed, I took the feeder down.
“You happy, squirrels?!” I grumbled. “This is going in the garage! No more free ride for you greedy creatures!”
Everyone lost that day. The poor birds, who couldn’t even count on snatching the crumbs that fell to the ground anymore. Me, since I couldn’t engage in armchair birding. And especially those squirrels, who brought about their own punishment.
If the coast is clear, I’ll toss a few nuts onto the ground for the birds to find. But it just isn’t the same. Perhaps I’m most disappointed in myself, for failing to outsmart the squirrels. I could always try again, next season….