Tuesday, July 3, 2007

BEST OF: A (bushy) tale of lost opportunities

I didn't know squirrels could swear. What a surprise.

The fuzzy-tailed little foragers are the bane of boardwalk managers, gardeners, farmers, ranchers ... and those who feed wild birds at home.

At Tanner Manor, husband Richard fills a variety of tubes, towers and platters with birdseed and various globes with sugar syrup. He also carries a pocket full of peanuts.

We tell him, but not too vehemently, that a truly dedicated wildlife lover shouldn't feed the critters.

But, ‘fessing up, we all enjoy watching hummingbirds zooming past to defend their feeders against anything larger than a mosquito and smaller than a breadbox. We watch flocks of little birds pushing and shoving at the feed trough, and laugh at scrub-jay antics when they're reminded it's physically impossible to simultaneously pick up three peanuts-in-the-shell in one beak.

A free lunch for squirrels

However, it never was Richard's intention to provide a Hometown Buffet for squirrels.

Oops. We forgot to tell the squirrels.

Originally, Richard thought that hanging a feeder from the roof on a long, slick wire would do it.


Following that installation, our first fluffy explorer dashed across the roof, skittered down the beam from which the feeder hung and looked puzzled.

After some abortive tries over several days, he made his move. He slowly inched over the edge of the overhang, and, clutching the board for dear life with one paw, he reached out with the other to grab the wire, which became his fireman's pole.

It was all over but the egress.

After filling up with seeds, the squirrel pondered his options. He tried several times to crawl up the wire, but kept backsliding down, clonking himself on the top of the feeder roof as he landed. Finally, the explorer set his shoulders, clenched his jaw to secure the seeds and leapt off the feeder to the deck, about 8 feet below.

We had ourselves a flying squirrel. Swell.

We tried various other feeders and schemes, none of which deterred the cagey critters for long. In the meantime, the squirrels' tunnels and burrows began undermining the bluff by our home. Landscapers clucked and fretted about the land's stability if the beasties continued to feast on seeds and dig in the dirt.

"If you find a feeder they can't get into, we won't have to poison them," they admonished. Gulp. Poison?

A better bird feeder

Then Editor Bert got a spiffy three-tube bird feeder, which he installed outside his window at The Cambrian's office. It looked almost squirrel proof, by golly, with its tightly capped, long, narrow tubes, each about 2-1/4 inches in diameter. We went right out and bought one of our own, and it seemed to work.

However, when we got back home after a vacation, Richard noticed that one of the tubes' top caps had disappeared. How strange. It had been a snug fit, tough enough for him to remove at fill-up time. We didn't think bird could dislodge the cap, unless turkey vultures have taken to attacking errant bird feeders.

Then Richard saw the culprit.

My chuckling husband reported his findings. "The squirrel had removed another cap and had wedged his body about two-thirds of the way down into one of those skinny tubes. It was a tight fit. His body completely stuffed the tube and only the tip of his tail stuck out the top.

"He was almost inhaling the seeds — I could actually watch the seed level going down."

Then the squirrel spotted Richard.

"He tried to wriggle back out, but what had slid easily into the tube was having a heck of time getting back out again," my husband reported. "His cheeks were too full, and he couldn't get enough traction to force himself out backwards. We had an empty feeder tube and a very full squirrel."

That’s when the air turned blue with squirrelly blasphemy. In the imaginary cartoon balloon over his head, the expletives were not deleted.

The critter wriggled, squirmed and twisted, to no avail. His was the classical image of a frantic, defiant little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Spewing seeds and swear words

Finally, the thoroughly disgusted squirrel spat some seeds back into the tube, a few at a time, just barely enough so he finally could tug himself free. He popped out of the tube like an animated champagne cork, and ZIP — he was gone, spewing more seeds, pure rage and profanity as he vanished.

By then, Richard was gasping for breath and bent over double, guffawing about what he'd seen. Watching a thoroughly ticked-off squirrel clearly was much better than seeing the best Marx Brothers' movie.

Yes, we're still in the market for a squirrel-foxing bird feeder. But in the meantime, we'll have lots of fun trying to translate squirrel cuss words.

This column ran in The Cambrian on Sept. 30, 2004. Since then, we have abandoned the idea of dispensing free bird seeds. The squirrels won this round. But we inadvertently visit them every time we take a walk on the Moonstone Beach Drive boardwalk. And, along the way, if we don't feed the fuzzy little rodents, we still get our ration of squirrel blasphemy.

No comments: