Burton on the Bay

Vol. 8, No. 15
April 13-19, 2000
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Burton Victorious

For $34.99, I’ve baffled the thieving squirrels — though I know well my victory is momentary

If, in the end, you fail, don’t admit trying.

—Dennis Owens,  Washington radio classical music host.

very morning from 6am — well, maybe not always as early as that — I tune in on the fm dial to 103.5 to get a start on the day by listening to Dennis Owens, who hosts a mix of classical music, wit, trivia and just about everything else but rock ’n’ roll and other things too noisy to stomach in the am

To my way of thinking, it’s the best show on the airwaves, radio or TV. It’s informative while remaining entertaining — and usually I go along with the observations and advice of Owens. But this is an exception. I will admit to failing — and also confess to trying. Trying for weeks, months and years.

But in the end I might have succeeded, though I can’t take much of the credit. Like the New York Yankees, I bought the winner with cold hard cash. The only credit I can take is having earned the $34.99, which prompted at least a momentary victory over bird-feeder-thieving squirrels on the side lawn of the Burton household on Stoney Creek in North County.

Hey, this confession doesn’t come easy. After all, many times previously I’ve reported on my attempts to operate at least one bird feeding station exclusively for the birds. There were short-term victories, but in the end, the ingenious couple dozen bushytails that reside hereabouts always figured a way to get the birdseed.

Sometimes it took only hours, maybe a day, or sometimes weeks, but in the end, I’d glance out the window to see a big, gray, arched tail, and on the opposite side of the equally arched body a pair of busy jaws and paws working on sunflower seeds.

The Squirrels Share

It’s not that I don’t like squirrels. I enjoy them as much as the rabbits, mallards and various songbirds that drop by regularly for munchies. But squirrels are voracious: They’ll eat all they can — and once their appetite is satiated, they keep at the trough, fill their jowls and bury the excess in secret caches for the future.

That doesn’t even bother me much. After all, it’s satisfying to feed wildlife, especially when one’s home displaced their primitive habitat. And squirrel watching is a fascinating pastime. They’re ingenious creatures, bold and packed with energy.

Their antics take the boredom out of life for Frieda, our white cat who watches them romp about the lawn, sometimes a dozen or more at once. Occasionally one will come to the brick steps, peer inside the screen door at Frieda — whose tail is thumping and mouth drooling — as if to say “nya, nya, nya, you can’t catch me.”

Maybe that bothers Frieda, but, though going on 14, she still needs a little excitement in life now that the mouse population has been decimated due to her vigilance. Catnip gains her attention for only a few minutes, but squirrel watching goes on for hours. What else does an old housecat have to occupy her time other than sleep?

So the squirrels hereabouts earn their cracked and whole kernel corn, millet, thistle, sunflower and other seeds along with peanut hearts, whole peanuts, fruit tidbits and whatever else they scavenge — including the grape jelly adored by the resident pair of catbirds, which seem to be a tad late in making their annual appearance this spring. I’m beginning to worry about them.

I’ve even pardoned squirrels for emptying the hanging suet cages. It was worth it just watching them claw the suet imbedded with seeds, bit by bit as they hung upside down on the wire mesh exterior. Even in that vulnerable position, they held on — and continued eating — when harassed by blue jays

They were less successful when skirmishing with the catbirds at the grape jelly station. Both catbirds — maybe there are more, though I’ve yet to see more than two at once — gang up on any bushytail nuzzling its snout into the sweet jelly. The catbirds squawked, dive bombed and otherwise did any aerial, audio and visual thing they could to send the intruder away. Always they appeared successful.

Being a spectator to such aggressive defense of a feeding station is well worth the couple of extra tablespoons of grape jelly required daily to keep the catbirds around and the squirrels interested. I resumed the jam routine a couple weeks ago, but not yet has a catbird showed, and the squirrels feed undisturbed.

But Fair is Fair

But I am not undisturbed when the squirrels take over everything — all the feeders and the seeds scattered on the lawn to attract and feed winged creatures. Occasionally, they allow a bird to feed nearby, but more often they selfishly drive it off. They want no competition.

Thus my goal for years has been twofold: To accommodate the squirrels while ensuring the birds of adequate seeds. In the effort, the backyard is a maze of master cables from tree to tree, drop wires to hold feeders, baffles to discourage squirrels from reaching the feeders and special ground and tree feeder stations for squirrels in the hope that these will divert their attention from traditional bird-feeders.

None of it worked. It’s almost like a squirrel would rather feast at a traditional bird-feeder than anywhere else. It likes the challenge as well as I. I saw that earlier this year when I hung via a six-foot strand of very thin wire from a walnut tree a cedar feeder with clear acrylic sides and filled with sunflower. Above the feeder was a big domed baffle, which surely would stop all intrusion other than by flight.

It worked — for a week. Then I spotted a squirrel that had gotten inside the feeder and was feasting on sunflower seeds while looking out the big picture window. Talk about dining in style.

I watched the feeder for days before learning how that squirrel had bypassed the baffle to gain entrance. It hadn’t humped up six feet from the ground, as I thought probable. Instead, it romped out on the limb, cased the trajectory, then dropped (not jumped) down to hit the baffle a glancing blow and slid onto the top of the cedar roof, which it pried open. The rest was easy.

While considering a second baffle at the top of the six-foot drop wire, in a garden shop I came across Stop.A.Squirrel, a metal box of dark green that holds a gallon and a half of sunflower seeds all visible through acrylic siding. There’s an adjustable spring mechanism involved. When anything heavier than a few birds gets on the perch, the weight slides a cap over the feeding trough.

I’ve seen such contraptions advertised for years, but at $35 I was reluctant to test the concept. But one can take defeat only so long. For five days now, the Stop.A.Squirrel feeder has been in operation, and I’ve watched bushytails spend hours unsuccessfully trying to figure out a way to bypass the spring-activated mechanism.

I hope they will soon realize they can’t, give up and return to all the other feeder stations. As long as they continue trying to figure out the new feeder, the birds can’t get to the seeds — and I’m right back where I started.

So once again it’s perseverance, Burton vs. the squirrels, and who will win? Stay tuned, we’ll let you know. In the meantime, on and in the wings, the birds are watching.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly