I spied my target from about 15 feet away. I knew he saw me, and I was fine with that. The little bugger scurried away, then stopped, looked around, and moved like he was coming back in my direction. It was like he either didn’t know what was going on, or that he had nothing to fear from me.
Oh, but he did.
I took hold of my weapon, loaded it, squeezed the trigger and fired. He ran away, but not before I hit him with a stream of water that sent him sprinting along my back deck’s railing, then jumping onto our redwood tree where he stopped, again, and thought about coming back toward our house. I wasted little time and kept spraying the vermin, making him race from branch to branch until he finally fled off in a state of fear that I hoped would keep him from ever gracing our deck again. .
What was my fight with? Just the adorable scourge that is the common American squirrel.
Yes, we all know about the everyday squirrel, the pigeon of the mammal world. Who hasn’t gotten excited at the sight of a squirrel on their porch or in their backyard? Squirrels are pretty fine with getting near humans. And squirrels aren’t some kind of rare, exotic creature. Little kids can look right out their kitchen window, see a squirrel, and see wildlife in action. They are everywhere around the country and are cute and funny.
And they are goddamn assholes.
I didn’t always feel this way about the common squirrel. Up until recently, I would actually get excited about a squirrel if he arrived at our back door, twitching around excitedly as he looked at us through the door’s glass pane. I even made it a point to put our pieces of older or uneaten fruits and other treats for the many squirrels that visit us so that they could have something to eat. I cared about the squirrel’s role in nature and I wanted ours to have a full belly.
And how did these little suckers show their appreciation for my generosity?
By wrecking every single bird feeder I have tried to put out over the last who-knows-how-many years.
We live up in the Oakland Hills. And like many homes in this area, we don’t have a back yard. What we do have is a decent-sized deck where, like any good, square American, we have a set of furniture, some plants and flowers, my two barbecues (one gas, one charcoal) and WAY too many toys for our daughters. And like any good, square American with such a setup, we think it’s nice to have a batch of the local finches and other songbirds around to cheer the place up.
So, with access to all the trees right off of our deck, we started hanging a bird feeder full of black oil sunflower seeds off of one of the branches we could reach and easily refill. It was nothing fancy, just your basic tube-shaped feeder, about 18 inches long, with a cap and handle at the top for filling and hanging, a plugged-up bottom and six little perches from which the little songbirds could sit and feed. I loaded it up, put it on a branch and waited for the beautiful chirping and singing to begin.
And within a week the squirrels had found the feeder and turned it into a buffet of their own.
The thieving jerks didn’t take long to figure out they could climb out onto the branch, stretch their heads down and start chewing away at not just the seed, but the feeder itself. And all the birds I wanted to attract had been scared off, too.
So, it was off to Plan B: The Squirrel-Proof Feeder. You may have seen one of these at your local hardware store. They come in different designs, each claiming to keep squirrels away from your birdseed. The one I bought looked pretty solid: a hard, plastic rectangular feeder inside of a metal sleeve. It was one of those spring-tension devices designed with the theory that when a squirrel sits on the feeding bar, his weight will pull down the sleeve, which will block the holes and keep the squirrel from getting to the food. Everybody wins!
And by “everybody,” I mean the squirrels.
It took them a couple of weeks but, like they did before, the squirrels outsmarted my second feeder. I think the squirrels found a way to use the feeder bars to sit upon and, while the feeder holes were blocked, would chew their way through the hard plastic seed holder. I surmised this one day when I saw that not only was the feeder empty, but a lower corner looked like a sawzall had been taken to the thing. My anger at the squirrels rose to a level just a little higher than that of Donald Trump when he goes on a Twitter rant against (insert anything here).
To top it off, I continued to put out pieces of old bread, fruit and crackers on our deck’s railing almost like a peace offering in the hope that if I kept the seed thieves satiated they would leave my feeder alone. Having lived with my six-and-eight-year-old daughters all their lives, I should have known how well this theory would work out.
My wife then came up with what we expected to be the $7 solution to our squirrel-bird feeder wars. At our local hardware store–the kind of which is staffed by guys who actually know the difference between a U-joint and a J-joint–my wife found a feeder with two suction cups that we could stick on the glass in the door that opens onto our deck. I filled up the thing with black oil sunflower seed, stuck it on the window and watched the birds find their way over and began digging in.
It seemed like the perfect answer. I sometimes work at home, and watching the birds come right up to the glass and feed away would provide a nice break from my daily routine. At least it did until I saw some other member of nature come over and get in on the action.
The squirrel looked like her didn’t know what was going on. I had stuck the feeder on the glass at such a height that squirrels couldn’t come down from the roof and get to it without smashing their faces on the deck below. And it was up high enough that it was out of jumping range for the little buggers. I figured I could chalk one up in the “W” column for myself.
But, I had underestimated my sneaky opponents. And in a big way, too.
Everything seemed to be fine until one day when I was working at home. I looked up from the sofa where I had parked myself and my laptop and there he was. Somehow, one of the squirrels had managed to get up and balance himself on the outside door handle and was trying to figure out how to make the leap onto the feeder, which was still a good two feet outside of his reach. I stomped over and whipped the door open, which scared him away and out into the trees. I hoped he wouldn’t come back. It would turn out to be a fruitless hope on my part.
Before long, one of the squirrels was back, and had shimmied his way up the outer door frame and lunged at the feeder. He didn’t make it, but I knew by this time that these rodents weren’t going to give up. And despite my efforts to remain in front of my TV as much as possible, I knew I would eventually have to get and couldn’t keep an eye on the feeder all the time. And when I did get up, that’s when the my enemy struck.
You can see the results in the photo here. Somehow, one the squirrels got enough lift to get onto the feeder, and was on long enough to gnaw through the little perch where the birds set to eat. Amazingly, the feeder’s suction cups held because it hadn’t been pulled off the glass. I cursed a while took the feeder down and did the only right-thinking thing someone in my position should.
I went straight to the hardware store and bought another feeder. I also bought a metal can with a snug-tight lid that I filled up with 10 pounds of black oil sunflower seed and sat right outside the door, ready for when the feeder needs refilling. I’ll be damned if I’m going to give in an surrender to a glorified rat.
Since then, a couple of weeks have gone by. I’ve seen a few squirrels around, but they haven’t gone after the feeder. Maybe the ones that did got pancaked by a car and those I’ve seen lately haven’t yet figured out what treats are in the feeder? In any case, I don’t care, as long as they leave me, the birds and that buffet of birdseed alone.
But, just in case they get any thoughts, I’m keeping that hose nearby.