After a year of living in what was supposed to be a temporary apartment, we are finally packing up our boxes and getting ready to move into a new house. When my brother-in-law offered to build it for us, he said it would be ready in six months. I should have known better than to believe him.
The place where we’ve been living is comfortable enough, but since we didn’t plan to stay long, I’ve never done any gardening. The back yard consists of a dilapidated wooden platform that once held a hot tub and a couple of pretty nice trees.
I noticed a cardinal flitting around our neighbor’s yard and became determined to attract him to ours so we could do some bird watching. We hung up a birdfeeder filled with luscious sunflower seeds and waited.
We attracted sparrows, wrens, doves, a prehistoric-looking bird called a grackle, and eventually, the cardinal and his wife. But the main creatures we attracted were squirrels.
I should have expected this. When we had our cabin in New York state, we put up a squirrel-proof birdfeeder. A bird could alight at the feeder and daintily feed, but when a critter as heavy as a squirrel sat on it, the feeder would close. It also had what was called a ‘squirrel baffle,’ a barrier midway up the pole that prevented squirrels from climbing up to the feeder in the first place.
I had assumed the squirrels would leave quietly and return to foraging in the woods. Instead, they became even more determined. They also became vindictive.
I had an expensive set of wind chimes hanging on the porch that played beautiful notes whenever a breeze blew. One day, I noticed I hadn’t heard them for awhile, and went out on the porch to find that the squirrels had bitten through the strings that held the chimes together, leaving them in a heap on the floor.
I put the pieces in a box and sent them off to the factory, where they were nice enough to string them back together at no charge.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, the squirrels had formed a militia. We looked out the window one day to see they had been working in relays and had finally knocked the feeder to the ground. There it lay in the dust, all of its seeds scattered on the ground, with about twenty squirrels dancing around it, triumphantly feasting.
They had also bitten through the wind chimes again. This time I put them in the trash.
I should have remembered this when I bought the feeder for our apartment. I should have also remembered the squirrel videos.
One time when we visited friends in Austin, they couldn’t wait to play us a tape they had recorded off public TV about squirrels. The first part featured a man who serviced vending machines and couldn’t figure who could be breaking into one of his machines and stealing candy bars. He decided it was teenagers, so he set up a hidden camera. The tape that resulted showed a squirrel run up to the vending machine, look right and left, then dive into the slot, climb up through the goodies on display, select a Snickers bar, then climb back down and run out.
The second part showed a English scientist who talked about how American squirrels were crowding out the cute, tufted- ear, English variety, and how ours were so much more cunning. He built an elaborate contraption which presented a series of booby-traps that a squirrel had to make it through in order to reach food. The scientist added a new hurdle every week, and the squirrel eventually mastered every one. It had to jump through hoops, use its arms monkey-style, and ride on a tiny roller-coaster to reach the food. The squirrel may have failed on the first few tries, but it always made it eventually.
We had a good laugh at the video, but it was sobering as well. I wondered if it was still possible to feed birds, or if the squirrels would inevitably win.
This time we decided not to bother trying to chase away the squirrels?we would be generous and feed both the birds and the squirrels. The trouble was, the more food we put out, the more the squirrels ate. They developed seed guts and thunder thighs and called all their friends over to eat at our feeder too. The cardinal would alight occasionally and nibble a bit, but would soon be chased off. We had the squirrel version of a Budweiser commercial going on in our back yard.
Finally, we decided to quit putting any seed out at all. Maybe the squirrels would eventually go off to some other sucker’s yard and we could begin bird watching again. We ignored the angry chattering every time we sat in the lawn chairs. The empty feeder was thrown from its hook onto the ground below.
One day we were working in our office when we heard a muffled explosion and the electricity went off. We searched around for the flashlights we had stashed away, and managed to find one pen light. By the light of its slender beam, we were able to dial the electricity company.
After a couple of dark hours, a man in a hardhat knocked on the door. When I explained the problem, he left to check out the situation. Suddenly the lights came back on and the refrigerator began humming away again.
I went outside to find out what had caused the problem. ‘Squirrel,’ the man with the hard hat replied.
It was revenge! But I wanted to make sure. ‘How do you know?’ I asked.
‘There’s a cooked squirrel at the base of the transformer,’ he said.
Right now it’s a stalemate: I haven’t refilled the feeder and the electricity has remained on. But every time I wheel my cart past the bags of bird seed at the supermarket, I think that maybe I actually miss the little guys. I’ve decided to leave the feeder out where the next tenant can find it.
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