Feeder is for the birds and squirrels

January 01, 2006|By Kate Coleman

I thought this column would present a picture of me at peace - sitting at my dining room table, sipping a cup of honey-sweetened tea, glancing out the window and delighting at the birds who flitted to the bird feeder hanging on the dogwood in front of my house.

That was the scene a few weeks ago - before the squirrels came, before the battles began.

I bought the bird feeder about a year ago.

I bought the bird feeder because I had bought a 50-pound bag of birdseed.

I bought a 50-pound bag of birdseed because it was my ticket to Earl Roulette's November 2004 birdseed party.

You've never been to a birdseed party?

I hadn't either, but, having been charmed by the Sharpsburg octogenarian a couple of months earlier, I knew I couldn't pass up the invitation.

Earl ordered a tractor-trailer load of birdseed. Then he called his many friends and acquaintances, each reserved a bag of birdseed and arrived - potluck offering in hand - at the backyard party.


The late autumn afternoon was warm, the menu varied and the guest list diverse. Earl and his wife, Annabelle, held court. It was a lovely afternoon.

In my typical never-get-anything-done-quickly fashion, the birdseed sat in the metal trash can purchased solely to hold 50 pounds of it for more than a year.

My daughter, Maggie, recently filled and hung the foot-long cylindrical feeder.

The birds came.

I, someone who has had an irrational, lifelong phobia of winged critters, was transformed.

With the window shielding me from the scary sound of fluttering wings, beady bird eyes, sharp beaks and ugly little bird feet, I became a devoted bird watcher - a veritable nature geek.

Field guide in hand, I thrilled with each identification. I was pleased to correctly recognize the chickadees as chickadees and sparrows as sparrows. There also were slate-colored juncos, tufted titmice, a downy woodpecker, a cedar waxwing and nuthatches, the "upside-down" birds.

Boy, this was fun.

Then the squirrels noticed the feeder.

Peace no more.

First they slid down the wire from the branch to the feeder's openings, sticking in their little snouts for dainty nibbles.

It didn't take long for them to figure out how to pry off the feeder lid and grab fistfuls. Then they ate the food down so far that they could no longer reach it with their little arms.

No problem.

They dove in head first, bottoms up. I worried that they'd get stuck.

No problem again. The strong, agile creatures easily solved the next phase of the challenge by knocking the feeder off the tree.

We'd rehang it - firmly securing the lid with duct tape.

It would take only a few minutes before it would again be open and on the ground.

The squirrels are persistent, greedy and brazen little critters.

They'll look right at me when I knock on the window to scare them away.

"Who, me?" a couple of them seem to say as they momentarily paused on the branch, paws on heart in a pose of innocent self-righteousness.

They won the first round.

Holiday preparations, parties and travel resulted in a temporary truce.

We gave up for a while, but we're back to rally to the bird-feeding cause in the new year.

Friends have shared ideas for thwarting the squirrels' relentless raids.

Neighbors have had some success greasing the metal pole that holds their feeder. I've seen "squirrel-proof" models in catalogs.

My main problem is I like the squirrels.

I respect their ingenuity and athleticism. And they're just so darned cute!

I'm going to try setting a plate of birdseed on the ground, hoping that the squirrels will choose the lazier approach and leave the aerobatics to the birds.

Meanwhile, I'll count my squirrelly blessings.

My friend Carole in Drums, Pa., contends with bigger beasts.

Earlier this year, a bear carried off two bird feeders from her backyard - one under each arm.

Kate Coleman's column appears in the Lifestyle section on the first Sunday of each month.

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