Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 9

February 28 - March 6, 2002

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Matching Wits with Squirrels

When you’ve tried and have not won, never stop for crying.
All that’s great and good that’s done is just by patient trying.

I can’t recall who first said or wrote those lines, but we’ve all heard and read ’em. Among the two score or more bushytails that romp on my side lawn up here on the shores of Stoney Creek in North County, there is one quite familiar with that advice.

This particular squirrel took the message to heart, practiced it, and made a fool of this writer, of my friend Francis Connor of Joppatowne — and of the unknown person who devised what he promoted as a “squirrel-proof” bird feeder.

Another friend, Alan Doelp of Linthicum, displays an I-told-you-so-smirk on his mug, though he has no legitimate right to point a finger. Almost daily, we update the other on the latest maneuvers bushytails have taken to outwit our attempts to keep them out of bird feeders — at least to make it difficult for them to feed.

Time and again, I’m outsmarted by persistent creatures
that could fit in my pocket if I dared put one there.

Raising the Bar
Alan shares with me a reputation for trying time and again, only to be outsmarted by persistent creatures that could fit in our pockets if we dared put them there. Even Alan, who is comparatively new to matching wits with squirrels, knows better than to try. I cringe at the thought. Ouch!

It’s not that we don’t like squirrels or that we don’t want them feeding on our lawns. It’s just that they fascinate us. We like the challenge, and we’ve learned, time and again, they will eventually have the last laugh — also a bellyful of bird feed. And peanuts.

As well as trying to keep the thick-tailed rodents from getting the lion’s share of bird seed, we also work on squirrel feeders — but with a built-in hitch. Whether it’s corn on the cob on a propeller-type device, peanuts and sunflower seeds secreted in a homemade feeder with a maze of baffles within or some other contraption we devise in our workshops, we challenge squirrels to get their breakfast, lunch or dinner.

We get much enjoyment watching them work out our puzzles, and obviously they get as much pleasure out of this game as we do. Probably they get more pleasure because they usually win. And long as it takes them to claim the prize the first time, from then on it’s easy — at least for the one who first masters our squirrel-proofing endeavor.

So much for the old claim among squirrel hunters that the creatures have poor memories. They well remember the route to a snack. And use it.

For us, it’s back to the drawing boards.

The Latest Challenge
Francis Connor knows well of our game, and for Christmas my gift from him was a “squirrel-proof” bird feeder, a platform-type device mounted on a small table, atop which was a cage-like arrangement with webbing like that of a crab trap or the mesh that surrounds hanging or pole-mounted traditional “squirrel-proof” bird feeders.

It was just what I wanted, a platform feeder that cardinals, goldfinches, wrens and other smaller birds can use. They’re small enough to get through the web, but larger birds can’t. Nor can squirrels. Or so the inventor claimed.

Last week, it was time to fill it with sunflower seeds, seeing that the goldfinches are arriving in goodly numbers. So out it went. I watched. Sure enough, a few birds found it quickly.

So did a few squirrels, who were barred entry and had to settle for what they could reach with their paws from outside. They kept trying to find a way in. They climbed around and over the mesh to no avail. But they wouldn’t quit.

Satisfied the new feeder was as advertised, squirrel-proof, I went about errands. When I returned several hours later, the top of the feeder was on the ground and two squirrels were feeding on the platform.

No problem, I figured. I placed a large flat rock on the wire top. No squirrel could budge that weight.

Outwitted Again
But one squirrel didn’t have to. It found a way to squeeze through the slightly less than two-inch-square mesh of sturdy wire.

I shooed it away, hoping it was just a lucky shot. But 10 minutes later, the squirrel was back inside feeding. I chased it out, but for four days it fed as often as I drove it away.

The last two days I haven’t seen it, though the platform is loaded with seeds. I’ve seen other squirrels try to get in, but none have. But I’m wondering about the one that did. Had his continual feasting added enough girth that he can no longer squeeze in? Did he tire of our game?

I’m hesitant to call Alan and boast. Another squirrel just might slip though, or the original one might slim down a hair, and start feeding within again. And that’s how the challenge goes up here in North County.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly