David and the Squirrel

David hangs the bird feeders from a couple of tree branches.

About the tree: David, a master gardener who should know, says it’s a Chinese elm; but the tree specialist who trimmed our trees a couple of years ago called it a post oak—either way, it lacks charm. It looks dead most of the year and it’s slow to grow. So, not so enamored with the tree. 

On the other hand, we enjoy the feeders because they attract so many birds—painted buntings, cardinals, goldfinches, the black-crested titmouse, and house finches—just to name a few. A red-winged blackbird flies in at the same time every afternoon, signaling his arrival with a boisterous Caw!

An aside about bird watching: We thought it was an insignificant pastime until we visited the Kinabatangan River in Borneo, where there was an abundance of birds that are found nowhere else in the world. At one point we spotted a rare type of kingfisher hopping from branch to branch along the bank. This kingfisher is a much-desired sighting on birdwatchers’ lists; and later we met a man from Australia who’d been coming to the lodge for twenty years hoping to catch sight of one, and we saw it on our first time out. Amusing, right? 

Back to the squirrel: It climbs out on a branch and slides down the wire to the feeder. In an effort to thwart it, David fastens a slinky at the top so that it bounces and dangles down the length of the wire. This idea comes from Sam’s childhood friend, Jimmy, who, even when he was a kid, had a gift for using items in ways unintended. The slinky puzzles the squirrel for a day or so, but then it starts simply free falling to the feeder, paying no attention to the slinky at all. 

David’s next move is to add a barrier over the feeder, an unattractive plastic hat. It hangs crookedly, but does the job in that the squirrel is deterred—until it realizes that it can jump directly to the feeder from the trunk, coming in under the barrier. This causes the feeder to swing, which means the squirrel is not only getting to the birdseed, but also enjoying a fine ride. 

David’s reasonable response to this is to move the feeders as far out on the branches as possible, a distance of about eight feet from the trunk. Both of us, when we see the squirrel make the jump, go, “Whoa!” 

At this point David goes to The Tractor Store for professional advice. I go along just for fun. 

“Them squirrels is ninjas,” the guy at the store tells us. “There ain’t a thang you can do.”

At this point I suggest to David that he utilize the old umbrella base that has, for no reason I can discern, been out behind the rock line ever since we moved here. (Here’s something you may or may not know: the word “utilize” is not a synonym for “use”; it actually means to make use of something in a manner not originally conceived.) 

“Stick a tall pole in the base,” I say, “and move it away from the tree so the squirrels can’t get to it. Then put a PVC T-junction on top with a couple of pipes acting as arms and hang the feeders from them.”

He gives it thought and likes the idea. 

We go to the specialty plumbing store, a manly hangout for contractors and ranchers. David explains what he wants to do and why to John, the man behind the counter. The other customers chime in. 

“Shoot’em,” one man says in a way that makes me think this is probably his response to every problem.

“Stop feeding the birds,” another says.

Even though it’s for a futile mission, a sale is a sale. John is happy to saw the pipe to David’s specifications.  

We pay for the pipe and as soon as we’re home David constructs his new feeder stand. The pipe we purchased is of a larger diameter than the pole he found in the garage, so duct tape is involved. It ends up being the most unattractive object I’ve ever had in a backyard.

The first night something big knocks the whole shebang over, which makes the squirrels happy because all the seed is on the ground; they don’t have to go to any trouble at all. 

Finding his new contraption in this subjugated position prompts David to hook some rebar through the base and pile rocks on top of it. 

“That squirrel won’t defeat me!” he insists. “And I think it was a hog that knocked it over.” 

But he can’t be sure, so he buys a motion-activated camera that will enable him to see what’s going on out there at night.

Tongue in cheek, Sam cheers David on in this squirrelly combat, advising in an email that this new bird feeding stand could be quite a money-maker because people everywhere want to keep squirrels off the bird feeders. 

“You can come up with all kinds of inventions,” Sam says. “You’ll live like Wallace and Gromit.” 

Curtis wisely points out, “Maybe the issue isn't so much the design but the idea of putting food in the middle of the squirrels' habitat and expecting the squirrels not to eat it.”

To David, I say, “One of my Mahjong friends told me that when she put out a squirrel feeder, the squirrels left the bird feeders alone.”

“I’m not going to feed the squirrels!” is David’s response. 

I don’t know what makes birds more deserving than squirrels, but that seems to be the case.  

“The squirrels never bother the squirrel-proof feeder. Why don’t you just get another one of those?”

“The birds like the brick.” This spoiling is the way birds gain a sense of entitlement. 

A squirrel shimmies up the pole, climbs all the way to the top, crawls out the arm of the bird feeder, and drops to the feeder. 

David attaches the slinky to the pole. 

The squirrel climbs to the bottom of the slinky and makes a giant leap to the feeder. 

David sets the feeders higher. 

The squirrel picks its way over the slinky, making it all the way to the top, where it drops on to the feeder.

David runs outside, waves his arms, and yells, “Get out of here!”

And I gasp, concerned for the startled squirrel as it drops ten feet to the ground. It seems to be limping as it scampers away. 

David adds a new obstacle—a broad cone placed about midway up the pole. So far it seems to be working. This battle has been going on for several months.

So far David’s gone after armadillos, deer, hogs, and squirrels. What will he do when there are no more backyard enemies to fight?  

Not exactly gorgeous, is it?

Not exactly gorgeous, is it?

Chinese elm or post oak? What do you think?

Chinese elm or post oak? What do you think?

More difficult to knock over now.

More difficult to knock over now.

This is what a slinky looks like when you hang it from a pole.

This is what a slinky looks like when you hang it from a pole.

This collar seems to be working. 

This collar seems to be working.