Battling the Squirrels —by Jinny Batterson
For as long as I’ve been a homeowner, I’ve had bird feeders near my house. I relish watching feathered creatures twittering and jostling each other to get at the seasonal seeds or suet I provide. For as long as I’ve had bird feeders, I’ve been visited by squirrels. They enjoy many of the same foods as their winged compatriots. I’ve tried lots of ways of discouraging these “rats with furry tails,” but the best I am able to do is to fight them to a draw.
My first feeder was a simple platform outside our dining room window in Vermont. The squirrels had absolutely no trouble climbing the post that supported the feeder, helping themselves to the feast, then either climbing back down or jumping into a nearby tree. About the only squirrel deterrents available were blizzards and a local family of blue jays—higher on the pecking order than their furry relatives. Whenever a jay appeared, squirrels quickly left the premises.
After a move south to Virginia, I experimented with a variety of “squirrel proof” feeders—some could be attached to a window and closed off on the outside; others had a trip mechanism designed to send a squirrel flying off when its heavier weight depressed a spring, activating a twirling motion. Sooner or later, the squirrels figured out how to defeat these feeders, sometimes detaching the window-anchored feeders, then helping themselves to a feast on the ground, other times hanging upside down above the trip feeders, gleefully stuffing themselves without activating the trip.
My next addition to the fight against squirrel incursions was a bottle of “flaming squirrel,” a liquid composed mostly of spicy hot capsicum pepper juice. The idea was to coat birdseed with a thin film of this extract, which would irritate the squirrels’ salivary glands but be innocuous to birds, who lack such glands. For whatever reasons, some of our resident squirrels eventually developed a tolerance for the pepper-coated seed—maybe spice-loving immigrants?
Our current residence is tree-challenged. Our bird feeders are appendages to a back deck, dangling from metal poles. Most of the time, the squirrels just help themselves. Lately, we’ve experimented with two additional squirrel-curbing tactics. A month or so ago, I bought a couple of “super soaker” squirt guns, filled them with water, and positioned them at the windows closest to the bird feeders. Whenever we notice a squirrel at a feeder, we open a window and let fly. We get some satisfaction and amusement from seeing fur-drenched squirrels scamper off. More recently, my husband hit upon the stratagem of greasing the poles to the feeders with vegetable oil. The squirrels are persistent enough so that with time they rub off the oil and again help themselves to birdseed. However, it’s fun to watch a startled squirrel sliding down our newly greased poles.
Like most human conflicts, our squirrel battles nearly always result in long-term stalemates. So far, though, they have played out without death or serious injury to a feeder-raiding squirrel. Our underlying understanding is that we can purchase or grow enough seed and suet for both birds and squirrels. Some of the time, our squirrel-thwarting maneuvers provide low-cost entertainment for us, and perhaps even for our furry interlopers.