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My War with the Squirrels

January 8, 2013
don't be fooled...

don’t be fooled…

I like most living creatures. I try to live by the Buddhist tenet which urges us to give compassion to all sentient beings in the world. I understand that this includes the likes of mosquitos and slugs and flies, which does make it difficult to follow sometimes.

And it includes squirrels.

Squirrels, you ask? Why on earth would they be a problem? Let me explain.

My war with the squirrels goes back many decades. In fact, it had been my father’s war; that is where I first learned about the enemy. OK, so they are small and furry and occasionally funny. But this innocent facade masks the devious and destructive nature of this insidious critter.

They gnaw. They can chew their way through wood, plastic, and even metal to get what they want. Sometimes this means food. Other times this means shelter. Anyone who has ever had a nesting squirrel in their shed, attic, or basement knows well the havoc they can wreak as well as the additional nuisance of noise, excrement, and unpleasant odor. Once inside a structure, they become a fire hazard for they’ll gnaw on the insulation of wires causing short circuits.

Squirrels have even been known to cause actual power outages. In the course of hiding or looking for food in transformers, they electrocute themselves, causing a short circuit in the process (they are responsible for knocking out the NASDAQ stock market twice). They also cause traffic accidents when innocent law-abiding drivers swerve to avoid hitting the inconsiderate jaywalking rodents.

And worst of all, at least for my father, is that they are perpetual diggers. They scurry around burying food and then later unburying it, leaving divots everywhere in their wake. My father’s pride and joy was his lawn. The son of a gardener, he spent most of his precious little spare time grooming to perfection the manicured patches around our house. These cursed squirrels conspired to ruin his green empire. He dealt with them in a rather ironic manner, first trapping them humanely in Have-a-Heart traps (the kind that don’t injure the animal) and then asphyxiating them in a bag attached to the tailpipe of his idling car. He clearly was not a Buddhist.

My own lawn these days is nothing to brag about, though the squirrel holes are still not welcome. But for me, the bigger problem is the thievery of this lawless breed. I am a bird lover. Because of that fact, I have a bird feeder in my backyard during the winter months to help my feathered friends survive the sometimes harsh conditions. However, a problem arose with the squirrels who also inhabited the yard. They would climb down the metal hanger on which the feeder was hung and chase the birds away, hogging the seeds for themselves. When the defenseless birds tried to eat the fallen seeds on the ground, others amongst the band of squirrels would not allow them even this small repast.

Thus I embarked on a series of preventive measures. The first was a commercial plastic shield situated above the feeder. The squirrels figured this out in about ten minutes, simply climbing down onto it and stretching over the side until they could grab hold of the feeder. I then added another layer above that — an old vinyl garbage can cover — which looked fairly awful but proved effective for a while. The squirrels would approach from above as they had before, but the instability of the garbage can cover would cause them to slide off and plop down onto the grass with nothing but their pride injured. Eventually, though, they learned to overcome this by controlling their slide by splaying out their little arms in order to snag the bird feeder on the way down. I could swear they smiled smugly at me as they gobbled up the seed intended for others.

two lines of defense from above

two lines of defense from above

I adopted a new tactic to counter this latest setback. I added another length of wire between the garbage can cover and the feeder causing their drop to be further and thus faster, precluding their ability to grab onto the feeder. This victory proved short-lived. The squirrels mounted a different attack. I watched them as they climbed down the tree trunk, stopping parallel to and slightly above where the feeder hung about four feet away. After carefully calculating the proper angle, they would then leap through the air and grab onto the base of the feeder. The first few attempts failed causing crashes worthy of those Funniest Video shows, but soon they got the hang of it, and I headed back to the drawing board.

I decided to take some left-over metal hoops and struts from a tomato support cage and form a barrier that would hang between the trunk and the feeder. It looked like some drunken Alexander Calder mobile, but it worked. The squirrels would leap onto this new barrier and swing helplessly within sight of the food but unable to generate any momentum to swing over to it. Until, that is, one particularly acrobatic squirrel figured out how to jump through the small space in the center of the barrier and land on the feeder. The others soon copied this trick.

my Calder mobile barrier

my Calder mobile barrier

I added more wire struts to my barrier to close the small center gap through which they were now leaping. I succeeded in preventing that jump-through route but did not foil them in their pursuit of a free meal. Their final stunt entailed jumping onto one side or the other of the barrier causing it to slowly swivel around. When they had turned to be on the side facing the feeder, they’d do kind of a back flip the final two feet onto their target to resume their dining. I fumed as I observed this latest defeat from my back window. My wife said I should just let them eat for all the work they went through.

We ended up buying a different feeder, one promising to be “squirrel-proof,” which now hangs by the side of our house. I felt pessimistic at first having been burned by the false claims of other products, but lo and behold, the squirrels don’t seem to be able to get to the seed. Or perhaps they are just lulling me into a false sense of security for the time being. But the birds seem to be quite satisfied, and the squirrels have accepted just eating the fallen seeds from the ground, so everyone is now happy. Especially me. Now  that the birds can eat in peace, I can more completely fulfill the live and let live philosophy I’d like to believe in. After all, if the lion can lie down with the lamb, I should be able to coexist with the squirrels. Until they get to my new feeder, that is.

squirrel-free dining at last

squirrel-free dining at last

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